This is why I don't start writing my recaps until the games are over. I was all ready to write a gushing celebration of Oakland's four-game road sweep over (arguably) the best team in the American League, after thoroughly dominating (unarguably) the best starting rotation in the Majors, and then one swing of Torii Hunter's stupid, ugly bat changed everything. Think of all of the words I would have had to delete. Those words have homes and families, and they would have just been erased without a moment's hesitation.
When the fat lady finally got around to singing, the A's found themselves on the wrong side of a 7-6 decision. They had been leading for literally the entire game, since Jed Lowrie hit Max Scherzer's 12th pitch of the day into the right field seats for a two-run homer, and then it was all gone thanks to an epic choke-job by Grant Balfour and another crushing blow by Hunter The A's Killer.
Oakland entered the contest having soundly beaten the Tigers in three straight games. Not only had they won, but they had roughed up the formidable trio of Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, and Doug Fister. They got off to a quick start against Cy Young frontrunner Max Scherzer when Coco Crisp led off the game with a double to deep center. Two batters later, Lowrie went deep to put the A's ahead 2-0.
After a couple of quiet innings, the A's struck again in the 4th. The red-hot Alberto Callaspo started the frame with a double, and Seth Smith followed with a single. Callaspo wasn't able to score on the hit, but right fielder Don Kelly's throw to the infield skipped past Prince Fielder and allowed Smith to reach 2nd. This was the moment of terror for A's fans: With runners on 2nd and 3rd and nobody out, would they capitalize against a pitcher against whom you can't afford to squander rallies?
It took Daric Barton only two pitches to answer that question. He shot a flyball to medium-deep center field, and Callaspo trotted home easily. Two pitches later, Eric Sogard hit a fly to shallow left which allowed Smith to score, increasing the lead to 4-0. If left fielder Andy Dirks had hit the plate with his throw, or catcher Brayan Pena had caught the throw cleanly, then Smith probably would have been out. However, when you're hot, you're hot, at least until the 9th inning. That's called foreshadowing.
Oakland finished off its demolition of Scherzer in the 5th. Josh Donaldson led off with a triple to the gap in right-center. Lowrie followed with a fly to right, but Mike Gallego elected to hold Donaldson. The decision turned out to be a wise one, because Kelly's throw home was more or less on the money and Brandon Moss quickly rendered the entire point moot by smoking another homer to deep right field. Like most of Moss's homers, this one was not a cheapie - it went at least 15 or 20 rows deep into the stands. That was it for Scherzer. Like his rotation-mates before him, he was unable to go past the 5th inning.
On the other side of the ball, Bartolo Colon looked like his old self again after getting a couple of weeks off to rest his arm. He scattered a few hits in the first three innings, and then allowed a run in the 4th on two singles and a sac fly. In the end, he threw five innings without walking anyone, allowed only the one run, and threw just 73 pitches. I'd say that we've got our ace back.
At the onset of the 6th inning, the A's had a 6-1 lead and looked completely in control. It would be a bullpen game from here on out, and Oakland has a far superior bullpen to Detroit (usually). Unfortunately, the Tigers' pen limited the A's to four hits over the final four innings, and the A's pen did considerably worse.
Things started to unravel immediately after Colon left the game. Jerry Blevins' first pitch of the game was sent into the seats by Fielder to cut the lead to 6-2, and he allowed two more hits before being lifted for Dan Otero. One of those inherited runners came in to score, but Otero eventually got out of the jam with a three-run lead intact. 6-3 A's.
Everything looked good for awhile after that. Otero and Sean Doolittle teamed up to shut down the Tigers in the 7th and 8th, and Bob Melvin handed the ball to the Automatic Aussie, Grant Balfour, for the 9th.
Unfortunately, Balfour lived up to his name today by issuing ball four multiple times in his appeareance. He started out by missing the strike zone six straight times, putting the leadoff hitter on base and falling behind Dirks 2-0. Dirks would eventually be retired, but I can't stress enough how unacceptable it is to walk the leadoff batter in the 9th inning with a three-run lead. That is the point in the game where you throw strikes and force the other team to swing the bat and make things happen themselves. I don't care if you throw it straight down the middle when there's nobody on base, just don't walk anybody.
Balfour caught pinch-hitter Alex Avila looking for the second out of the inning, and this one seemed like it was just about done. However, Balfour just had absolutely nothing today, by his own admission, and he issued another four-pitch walk to Fielder. At this point, Detroit was bringing the tying run to the plate despite the fact that they didn't have a hit in the inning. Victor Martinez followed Fielder with a bloop single to right, scoring a run and bringing the winning run to the plate in the form of notorious A's killer Torii Hunter. Balfour worked a 1-1 count to Hunter, and then left an absolute meatball over the plate which Hunter swatted over the fence for a walk-off homer. Judging by Seth Smith's body language, I honestly thought that this one was going to stay in the park, but it just was not to be today. Final score: 7-6 Tigers. Lame.
Let's do a round of good news/bad news.
The A's lost a game that they should have won, that they controlled from wire to wire, and that they only lost because they gift-wrapped it for the opponent. They had built up a huge amount of momentum after a long cold stretch, and missing out on the sweep was a crushing blow at the end of an otherwise successful road trip. The bullpen proved to be the weak link yet again, which is a worrisome trend heading into the stretch drive. Moss only hit one homer rather than two or three.
The A's took three out of four from one of the best team's in baseball, and four of seven on a road trip that I feared might end with a 2-5 record. Momentum probably doesn't exist. The A's starters were solid, if lacking in endurance. The offense came back to life. Moss is a boss. Alberto Callaspo is now hitting .306/.393/.431 in his 25 games as an Athletic. The A's scored 22 runs (19 earned) in 20 innings against Detroit's vaunted starting rotation of Sanchez, Verlander, Fister, and Scherzer, which is even better considering their historic struggles against Verlander and Scherzer. Seth Smith might be fixed. Dan Otero is pretty freaking good. The lineup remembered how to drive in runners from scoring position. Daric Barton and Kurt Suzuki are each contributing...with their bats. The A's hold the second Wild Card with a 3.5-game cushion over Cleveland, and are only three games back of Texas with a 3-game head-to-head series on the horizon. The cold streak is done, Oakland can still beat good teams, and the lineup can still hit good pitchers. This game sucked, but the sky no longer feels like it's falling. I am once again confident that the A's can and will make the playoffs.
I'm not going to sit here and tell you that you shouldn't be mad about this game because Oakland still took three out of four. That's B.S. You should absolutely be pissed that the A's threw away this game, but you should also appreciate the fact that this road trip was a wild success and that things could be much worse.
Yes, they could be much, much worse. We could all be Angels fans.
The A's pick up the pieces and head home for three games against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays currently hold the first Wild Card, so this is a great opportunity for Oakland to make a move in the playoff picture. The series kicks off at 7:05pm with Jarrod Parker facing David Price. Baseballgirl will have your thread.