You know that you're rooting for a good team when you can watch them win a ballgame and still be disappointed in their performance. It's the kind of spoiled, entitled response that can only come from a fan of a quality ballclub, and I feel like a giant crybaby just for thinking it. Don't get me wrong; a win is a win, and I'm absolutely happy that the A's pulled this one off. However, it seemed like this was a battle of who could do more to lose the game, and the A's technically lost that battle by securing the victory on Josh Reddick's walk-off walk in the 10th.
Oakland seemed to be in complete control of this one early on, with Dan Straily turning in his third straight dominant performance and the offense doing enough to push three runs across the plate. However, the A's continued their recent trend of leaving runners on base in virtually every inning and failing to get the big hit (or the big sac fly) at the crucial moment.
Let's start with a happy thought. Dan Straily was filthy today, pounding the zone and getting bite on his breaking pitches en route to six innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts and no walks. He did allow six hits, but only a few of them came from really solid contact and he made some big pitches when he needed to. He set the tone by getting out of a big jam in the 1st inning. After a couple of soft singles, he went after Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko and struck them both out swinging. He would later allow an RBI single to Dunn in the 3rd, but otherwise he mystified Chicago's lineup for most of the afternoon.
The only downside to Straily's outing was how short it was. He threw only 91 pitches before being removed to start the 7th inning, and that marked only the 3rd time that he has reached the 90-pitch mark in the Majors this year. Is there a reason why Melvin doesn't trust him to go deeper into games? Is it a matter of losing velocity or control as the game goes on? Are the A's babying his young arm after a career-high workload in 2012, or perhaps trying to keep him fresh for a pennant drive in September? Or did Melvin just decide to "shorten the game" with 3 innings from his ace relievers? I'm not sure what combination of those is closest to reality, but if Straily is going to keep pitching like this then I'd like to see him breaking 100 pitches and throwing at least 7 innings. Until I hear a reason otherwise, I want to see Straily work deeper into games when he is as dominant as he was today.
In this case, the decision to pull Straily was costly. Sean Doolittle, who has been so lights-out this year, posted his second straight dud outing and his second blown save of the season. He allowed three straight hits (single, double, two-run single) to the 8-9-1 hitters in Chicago's punchless lineup, and all three of them came on solid contact. Honestly, though, he was bound to give up some runs sooner or later; almost nobody maintains a sub-1.00 ERA for an entire season, and Doolittle is going to give up some hits just like anybody else. I'm not worried about him moving forward, but rather disappointed that he didn't get the job done in this particular case.
Ryan Cook, Grant Balfour, Pat Neshek, and Jerry Blevins combined to record the final nine outs. Chicago managed only one hit off that group (a single off of Balfour), and that runner was eliminated on a line-drive double play. Overall, the pitching was excellent today. It was the offense which left a bad taste in my mouth.
Things actually started quite well for Oakland's lineup, as they plated runs in each of the first two innings. Jed Lowrie led off the 1st with a single, and Yoenis Cespedes doubled him in to draw first blood just three batters into the game. The A's would ultimately leave two runners on base at the end of the inning.
Derek Norris led off the 2nd with a sharp double into the left field corner, and Chris Young knocked him in with a duck snort to right field to increase the lead to 2-0. The A's would ultimately leave two runners on base at the end of the inning.
Oakland got a pair of two-out singles from Adam Rosales and Jed Lowrie in the 4th, but they would ultimately leave both runners on base at the end of the inning. A pattern is starting to emerge.
Cespedes led off the 5th by singling and getting picked off (another disturbing trend which I won't get into today), and then Josh Donaldson got a hit of his own to bring up Nate Freiman. Six-Eight Nate drilled the ball to the wall in center, and ended up with an RBI triple when center fielder Alejandro De Aza fell down trying to field it. The A's would ultimately leave two runners on base at the end of the inning.
A one-out double by Lowrie in the 6th and a two-out single by Josh Reddick in the 7th also went to waste. In the 8th, Lowrie singled with two outs for his fourth hit of the game, and Chris Young smoked a double into the left field corner which was hit so hard that Lowrie couldn't score. Everyone together now: The A's would ultimately leave two runners on base at the end of the inning.
The 9th inning was the most painful of all. This already had the feel of a game which Oakland should have won long ago, but their work was not yet done. Donaldson led off by beating out an infield single, and Brandon Moss worked a walk after starting off with an 0-2 count. With nobody out, Reddick squared around for a sacrifice bunt and laid down a beauty. In fact, it was such a good bunt that it squirted past the pitcher, Hector Santiago, and everyone was safe. Bases loaded, nobody out. All that was needed was a single, or a sac fly, or a slow grounder, or a walk, or a wild pitch...virtually anything other than a strikeout or a pop-out would end this game immediately.
Up stepped Derek Norris, no stranger to the walk-off hit. He fouled off the first pitch. He fouled off the second pitch. He took an extremely close 0-2 offering off the inside corner. He fouled off the fourth pitch. Then, on the fifth pitch, he finally put the ball into play in one of the worst possible ways: a sharp grounder directly at the shortstop with the infield playing in. Two more feet to the left, and it would have either squeezed through the hole or at least made it a difficult play at the plate. Instead, it was a tailor-made 6-2-3 double play to cut down the runner at home and retire Norris at 1st. Just unreal. Pinch-hitter Coco Crisp was intentionally walked, and Eric Sogard followed with a strikeout. Finally, a slightly different result: The A's would ultimately leave three runners on base at the end of the inning.
The White Sox finally gave in in the 10th inning. For reasons that I simply cannot fathom, manager Robin Ventura stuck with his left-hander, Santiago, to face the righty-heavy top of Oakland's lineup. Lowrie led off with a lineout, but Chris Young followed by doubling off the wall in left. Wait, they let a lefty face Young in extra innings while their lights-out right-handed closer sat idly in the bullpen? That simply does not compute. With 1st base open, Santiago intentionally walked Cespedes, and then unintentionally walked Donaldson to load the bases for Moss with one out. To his credit, Moss hit a rocket to the right side, but 2nd baseman Jeff Keppinger made a fine play to snare the liner and momentarily save the game.
With two outs, Josh Reddick came up with one final chance to salvage another bases-loaded rally. He took a first-pitch strike, and then watched four straight balls, none of which were particularly close, to draw the game-ending, walk-off walk. He was taking all the way on the 3-1 pitch, so much so that he just stood up straight and made it obvious that he had no intention of swinging. Game, set, match. After driving in the go-ahead run last night in his first game back from the DL, Reddick "drove in" the game-winner in his second game back as well. It was an anticlimactic end to a thrilling game, but in the end I'll take a win however I can get it.
Overall, Reddick was 2-for-5 with a pair of singles (including his bunt single) and the crucial walk. He's now 3-for-8 in his two games since returning to the lineup, and that alone makes up for my disappointment with Oakland's lack of clutch hitting today. A healthy and productive Reddick (not to mention a productive Straily) will help take this team from Wild Card contender to legitimate title contender.
Although Reddick made things happen today, the real story came from the top two spots in the lineup. Lowrie went 4-for-5 with a walk out of the leadoff spot, and Young finished 3-for-6 with a pair of hard-hit doubles. The two of them combined to play a role in three of Oakland's four runs, and it was nice to get such great production out of those spots on a day in which Coco Crisp sat out. Cespedes and Donaldson also reached base three times each, and the only real weak spot in the lineup came from Seth Smith's 0-for-4 performance (which isn't even that big of a deal, coming against a left-handed starter). I would hope that Smith will sit tomorrow against the extremely tough lefty, Chris Sale.
The bottom line is that the A's recorded 16 hits and eight walks, and yet managed to score only four runs. That is bad. However, they kept fighting, inning after inning, and their pitching kept them in the game long enough for the offense to finally scratch out that one last run. I might be disappointed in the overall performance, but I will never argue with that result.
After all, a win is a win.
Having secured their fifth straight series victory, Oakland goes for the sweep tomorrow at 1:05pm. Jarrod Parker faces Chris Sale. Baseballgirl will have your thread.