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Missed opportunities doom A's in disheartening Game 4 loss

A bullpen implosion combined with a bases loaded epic fail send the A's to an 8-6 Game 4 loss. For the second year in a row, the A's find themselves having to go through Justin Verlander at the Coliseum to secure a trip to the ALCS.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

2000: Lost ALDS (3-2)
2001: Lost ALDS (3-2)
2002: Lost ALDS (3-2)
2003: Lost ALDS (3-2)
2012: Lost ALDS (3-2)

2013: Can the A's rewrite the script?

This was a very hard game for us A's fans to take. Dan Straily took a no-hitter into the fifth, only to emphatically lose it.  The Tigers received a home run even though a fan interfered to take the lead.  The A's had the bases loaded, no outs, down by one run, and did not score.  Finally, the A's bullpen could not keep the game close, rendering moot an inspired ninth inning A's rally.

We have all been here before.  We have seen this five freaking times.  When an ALDS goes to five games, horrible things happen to our team, and by extension, to us.  However there is one flicker of hope.  After perhaps the worst eighth inning in Oakland A's history (I'll let 67Marquez take the grisly task of confirming this, if he chooses to do so), the A's found themselves down four runs with three outs left.  Nevertheless, the team refused to quit.  They rallied for two runs, and had the tying run at the plate and two outs.  Of course, we were not graced with the in play, miracle(s) flashing on our screens.  But we did watch a team that never, ever gives up. Whether Colon or Gray starts Game 5 (Bob Melvin did not name a starter yet), this team will not be rolled like they were last year. They are not overmatched, they belong, and they can pull this off.

The game started off very well. Coco Crisp continued his red-hot ALDS with a triple on Doug Fister's second pitch of the evening.  Jed Lowrie knocked him in with a single, but the A's could not add on.  Still, it was instantly 1-0 A's, and Fister seemed unable to locate his pitches.  In the second inning, the A's again had a runner in scoring position with no outs, courtesy of a Seth Smith single and a wild pitch by Doug Fister.  It was then that Josh Reddick's particularly frustrating night began with a weak groundout.  Of course later in the evening, all of us would have given our left arms for a weak groundout from Reddick.

Anyway, in a familiar story with runners in scoring position, Stephen Vogt could not bring home Smith from third, Eric Sogard walked, and Coco Crisp hit the ball on the screws, but was denied by the big part of the ballpark and a nice running catch by Torii Hunter.  At that point the mood was good.  Fister was bending, the pitch count was running up (48 in two innings), and Dan Straily's slider looked especially filthy.

Although the A's ended up allowing Fister to settle into a groove over the next couple of innings and use only 21 pitches and just one hit (a Reddick double) in the third and fourth innings combined, our patience and optimism was rewarded with a Coco Crisp single and a blast into the right field seats by Jed Lowrie in the fifth.  3-0 A's, midway through the game.

The bottom of the fifth inning saw the Tigers' bats finally wake up.  After Straily took his no-no up to 4 1/3 innings, it was torn to shreds by the heart of the Tigers' order.   Prince Fielder blooped a ball down the left field line; with Yoenis Cespedes playing Fielder to pull, he could not come all the way back to get it and it bounced for a hit.  Victor Martinez continued to wear out A's pitching as he ripped a grounder into right field.  And then Jhonny "Spellcheck" Peralta took a 90 mph fastball elevated over the plate and sent it to the right field seats.  New ballgame, 3-3.

The Tigers' offense seemed to embolden Fister who pitched the top of the sixth with a renewed confidence.  His sinker found its bite, and induced three consecutive groundouts from A's power bats.

Despite the bump in the road, Bob Melvin was confident enough to stick with Straily in the sixth, and he was rewarded as Straily put up a zero and turned in a quality start.  At that point it was going to be a battle of the bullpens, with Straily pulled after a meager 76 pitches. The Tigers bullpen included Max Scherzer on short rest while the A's were coming with their stellar crew that had not allowed a run all series.

The top of the 7th saw the A's manufacture a run against Scherzer.  Vogt kicked it off with a single up the middle. Eric Sogard bunted him over, and then Coco Crisp knocked him in.  Scherzer got Josh Donaldson and Lowrie to end the threat. 4-3 for the never-say-die Athletics.

The A's could have used the extra runs, as unfortunately Sean Doolittle could not continue the A's bullpen's scoreless streak.  Victor Martinez took Doolittle's second pitch to right field for a solo shot to lead off the inning.  Or did he?  Reddick was airborne and made an all out leap to catch the ball, only to see two fans reach over the railing, below the top of the railing (but above the yellow home run line) and stop the downward path of the ball.  Crisp and Reddick protested furiously.  One of the umpires actually called fan interference but was overruled by another umpire who emphatically signaled home run.  Unfortunately, the replay rules require clear and convincing evidence to overturn a ruling on the field; if the ruling was interference I cannot imagine that it would have been overturned.  However, with the ruling as a home run, it seemed that the umpires judged that Reddick would not have caught or made contact with the ball.

While they may or may have been correct about that, that is entirely not the correct standard.

From the MLB Rulebook:

Should a spectator reach out on the playing field side of such fence, railing or rope, and plainly prevent the fielder from catching the ball, then the batsman should be called out for the spectator’s interference.

For the record, Reddick believes he would have caught the ball.  After the game, Reddick stated in no uncertain terms:  "I had no doubt that I was gonna catch that ball.  The ball was headed right to my glove...It's frustrating that a fan can change the outcome of the game."

Well then.  Tie ballgame.

Jhonny Peralta continued his hot night with a double off Doolittle, and things were looking grim.  However, Alex Avila could not get a bunt down, and after two foul bunts at 0-2 he struck out. Omar Infante hit the ball on the screws but right to Coco Crisp in centerfield.  It seemed that Doolittle was going to work his way out of it. And then he decided to walk the #9 hitter, Jose Iglesias, on five pitches, four of which were nowhere near the zone.  Not even close.

Leadoff hitter Austin Jackson stepped to the plate, having struck out three times earlier in the night.  The Tigers' (un)faithful even booed him earlier in the night when he came up with the Tigers down 1-0.  Doolittle actually made a great pitch, jamming up with a fastball and breaking his bat in the process.  Unfortunately the ball softly landed in shallow right field, giving the Tigers a lead.  Dan Otero came in and struck out Torii Hunter for the final out.

With Scherzer coming back for another inning after allowing the run, the A's were primed to add on more.  And that's when the 8th inning from hell began.  Scherzer walked Brandon Moss on five pitches, and he did not look sharp.  Cespedes, who smacked a triple and a home run off Scherzer in Game 1, stepped to the plate looking to inflict some more pain.  He delivered with a flyball double out of the range of Torii Hunter in left field.  Suddenly the A's had second and third, nobody out, down only one run. It looked like the A's could take the series, right then and there. Seth Smith was intentionally walked to load the bases.  The Tigers infield was at double play depth, conceding the run.

And then Scherzer dug deep for a battle with Reddick. Reddick worked the count to 3-1.  Scherzer threw a couple fastballs over the plate and Reddick could not put them in play to score the run.  Scherzer's second pitch with the full count was a change up low and inside, never close to the zone.  Reddick swung at ball four and bailed him out.  By all rights, it should have been a tie game, or even an A's lead.  Instead Scherzer was a double play away from ending it.

Of course a double play would require putting the ball in play, which Vogt could not accomplish, striking out again. After watching Reddick's at bat, I thought Melvin might pinch hit Alberto Callaspo for Vogt.  Callaspo is a great contact hitter who rarely strikes out.  That is the guy you want up in that situation, someone to hit the ball to the outfield.  He has three catchers, for crying out loud.  Get your best hitter to the plate in an RBI situation.  He did pinch hit Callaspo for Sogard. Callaspo worked the count full.  Scherzer, risking nothing, threw him a fastball right down the middle.  Callaspo did not miss it.  Unfortunately his line drive was within the purview of Austin Jackson, and the A's had wasted a bases loaded, zero out situation.

Note that we still have not discussed the bottom of the 8th inning.  Yes, there was another half inning of torture to ensure that the game was out of reach.  This time, umpires could not be blamed.  The A's bullpen earned this one all by themselves.  Ryan Cook came in for the 8th.  He promptly sailed three balls to Miguel Cabrera, but Cabrera swung at a 3-0 "get me over" strike to ground out for out #1.  Cook went down 2-0 to Prince Fielder as well, but came back with some nasty pitches to strike him out.  All seemed calm, and with the top of the A's order coming up, this game was far from over despite the team's pathetic display of clutch hitting.

Sadly, the quick 1-2-3 inning did not transpire, and the Tigers put together a massive two out rally.  Victor Martinez lined Cook's first pitch down the right field line for a single.  Andy Dirks (who had come in to pinch run for Jhonny Peralta) fouled off pitch after pitch until Cook tossed a fastball at his eyeballs for ball four.  Melvin pulled Cook and put in Brett Anderson (instead of the more experienced lefty Jerry Blevins) to face Alex Avila.  Anderson quickly walked Avila on a bunch of terrible pitches way out of the zone to load the bases, threw a wild pitch to Omar Infante to allow a run, then give up a double to bring the rest of the gang home.  He finally got out of the inning, but five batters came to the plate with two outs.

In the top of the 9th, the A's finally got to Joaquin Benoit, thanks to Crisp and Cespedes (who else?).  Cespedes was in scoring position with Seth Smith at the plate, with two outs.  The A's could not replicate the Tigers' two out rally, and Smith poetically struck out swinging on a splitter at his shoetops.  Final score, 8-6

This is looking all too familiar.  Please for the love of everything that is good in this world, someone, anyone step up. Be a hero. Rewrite the script.