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A’s Squander Excellent and Gritty Effort By Braden, Lose 6-3

Even pitching with a stomach issue tonight, Dallas Braden was everything you ever wanted from a starting pitcher. He threw seven innings, worked neatly out of a couple of jams, and fielded his position like a natural infielder. The only thing he didn’t do was pitch the complete game, which looked to be the only way he would have secured the win.

It’s hard to know what exactly to pinpoint to describe why the A’s didn’t win the game tonight. Yes, the A’s were almost no-hit from the fourth inning on (a 9th inning pinch-hit double by Giambi was the lone hit after 4). True, the 6-9 hitters were Crosby, Cunningham, Davis, and Hannahan tonight. But the A’s still held a 3-2 lead going to the eighth inning; they had Liriano beaten, and if they wanted to compete this season at all, they had to be able to get six outs for the win. The lack of defined bullpen roles, including a clear set-up man (and closer for that matter), the overuse of a rookie pitcher, the underuse perhaps of the one veteran on the starting staff, and having a manager who looks surprised when his clever match-ups are foiled by the newfangled pinch hitter rule aren’t going to cut it. Despite all that was stacked against them tonight, the A’s needed six outs to win; and they didn’t get one.

The game itself was picture perfect for seven innings. Braden got in some mild trouble in the first, but Rajai Davis (who took some interesting routes to the ball tonight; very Byrnes-esque) threw Mauer out at third on an absolute seed that landed in Hannahan’s glove right as the runner slid in. Braden got in trouble again in the third with a leadoff walk/double combination that would put men on second and third with no one out. They would both score.

But the A’s came right back against Liriano with a single by Davis and Hannahan. Davis would score the A’s first run on Cabrera’s DP. The A’s would get another run in the fourth; after Holliday just missed a homerun, Suzuki doubled him in from second. After Crosby struck out (Crosby was Giambi’s replacement tonight and looked horribly overmatched by Liriano, Barton could hardly have been worse at the plate, even considering the splits), Cunningham came up for an interesting at-bat. Up 2-0 in the count, he swung at a ball inside and in the dirt for his first strike, swung through for his second strike and then stayed alive on some tough pitches before working a walk from Liriano. It would matter at the time. Rajai Davis came up, and shot a single to center field to give the A’s the go-ahead run. It was all pitching after that.

The Twins got something started again in the top of the fifth inning, with the first two runners reaching base, but they chose to bunt Gomez, and Braden was ready. He fielded the ball and threw a perfect strike to Hannahan for the out. Harris grounded into the DP, leaving M&M out of the inning. It looked all good for the A’s.

Braden pitched into the seventh, and made the last out of his night; a sliding play to surround a bunt, then popping back up and firing to first for the out. It was a great play; a great pitching performance, and he surely deserved better than he got.

Things were clicking along quite well, and operation Win The Game was in full swing until the eighth. With Braden at 96 pitches, and a rested Ziegler (who would not make an appearance in the game) and an overworked Bailey (who would make a terrible appearance later), Geren chose to match-up Wuertz against Carlos Gomez. Of course (as anyone with a lineup card could deduce), Wuertz did not pitch to Gomez; he pitched to the lefty pinch-hitting Kubel. I bet the A’s clubhouse cam showed "surprise" as the facial expression.

Kubel--no kidding--homered to tie the game on the first pitch he saw. What was interesting and a bit heartbreaking about getting the news of Braden’s no-decision was that Braden was actually being interviewed at the exact same time that Wuertz gave up the homerun Of course, he’s a lot more diplomatic than I. He said something nice about his team, and how they work together. My interview would have read with some beeps and Gerens.

That turned out to be the game right there; instead of using the fresh Ziegler for the tie-game ninth and perhaps giving Bailey one more night off, and Ziggy a chance to get through the ninth (maybe even the tenth) and letting the A’s offense try one more time for the win (Pinch-hitting Giambi smoked a ball off Nathan that easily could have gone out), Geren threw Bailey in the tie game. Bailey (with a little creative fielding on the leadoff triple) gave up three runs, and the game, and is certainly unavailable tomorrow.

Make of it what you will. The A’s drop a tough game, but they can't dwell for very long. They have to come out and play in just a few hours; let's hope for a different outcome. Cahill tries to tie the series tomorrow at 12:35.