The A's lead in the AL West could very easily have grown to three games tonight. It also very easily could have been trimmed to just one. Oakland blew a late-inning lead in Minnesota, while the Rangers almost pulled off a huge comeback in the bottom of the 9th against Pittsburgh. In the end, the A's lead in the division held at two games, and I, for one, will take it.
Tonight's game started off innocently enough, with Jarrod Parker giving up a leadoff single to Alex Presley, but he escaped the inning without allowing another baserunner.
But the second inning was a different story. After getting Ryan Doumit to ground out to second base, Parker hung an 81mph slider to none other than Josh Willingham, who squared it up and hit it thirty feet over the wall just left of straightaway center field, giving Minnesota a 1-0 lead. Parker then gave up consecutive singles to Chris Parmelee and Pedro Florimon — he struck out Presley to end the inning, but it was clear that he was skating on thin ice.
The A's made their first noise on offense in the third inning, which Daric Barton led off with a single to left field. Stephen Vogt hit the ball hard in his at bat as well, but the line shot that he took the other way found its way right into the glove of third baseman Trevor Plouffe. That left Eric Sogard to bat with one on and one out, but he promptly grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Oakland went back to work in the top of the 4th after Parker worked a shutdown top of the 3rd. Coco Crisp led off with a single, but the A's couldn't bring him home. Josh Donaldson struck out on a 3-2 pitch, and even though Crisp stole second base with one out to give both Jed Lowrie and Brandon Moss an opportunity to tie the game with a base hit, neither could get it done.
Cespedes led off the 5th by taking a Hendricks two-seamer off of his left forearm. That set the table for Alberto Callaspo, who took the second pitch Hendriks threw him and hit a no-doubt, line-drive home run into the third row of the right field porch, giving Oakland its first lead of the night at 2-1.
Stephen Vogt kept the momentum going with a one-out ground-ball single up the middle, but proceeded to thoroughly kill the momentum by getting thrown out on an attempted steal of second base. I don't know what Vogt saw in Hendrik's movement that made him think he'd be able to make it to second safely, but his jump was horrible, and he was thrown out easily. Eric Sogard immediately rubbed salt into the wound by singling on a ground ball to the right of second base. To be fair, had Vogt not tried to steal second, the infielders would've been playing at double play depth and Sogard's base knock could very easily have been an inning-ending double play. Coco Crisp made it a moot point by grounding out to second base, ending the inning.
Oakland added on in the 6th, using a Josh Donaldson single and a Brandon Moss hit-by-pitch to give the recently-hot Cespedes a chance to extend the lead. He did just that, hitting a sharp line drive to left field that scored Donaldson, bringing Oakland's lead to 3-1.
But that same inning brought the A's most frustrating play of the night — a classic TOOTBLAN from Cespedes. With one out, Alberto Callaspo hit a fly ball to medium-deep center field, easily deep enough for Moss to tag up and advance from second base to third. But Cespedes thought, somehow, that it would be a good idea to try for second, even though that's where the throw from the center fielder normally goes on a play like that. Instead of a two-out situation with runners at the corners and Daric Barton batting, the inning was over.
The A's didn't waste any time in blowing whatever momentum they still had. Parker didn't even have the chance to set himself up for trouble in the bottom of the 6th — the Twins struck quickly on an Oswaldo Arcia line-drive home run to right-center field, cutting Oakland's lead to 3-2. That's when Parker worked into trouble, allowing a single to Ryan Doumit, a walk to Willingham, and then a one-out walk to Chris Parmelee that loaded the bases. But he recovered just as quickly as Minnesota initially struck, getting an inning-ending double play from Pedro Florimon to escape further damage.
The score held at 3-2 until the bottom of the 8th, which Oswaldo Garcia led off with a single to right field off of Sean Doolittle, who came into the game in the 7th to replace Parker. Doolittle struck out Ryan Doumit, which brought up Willingham again. Bob Melvin opted to bring in Ryan Cook so that the former A's slugger would have to face a righty.
Willingham could have cared less about the righty/lefty matchup, taking Cook deep to left field for his second home run of the game that gave Minnesota a 4-3 lead. With one swing, the A's went from being five outs away from a victory to being three outs away from a loss, as is the nature of the 8th inning. Willingham seems to have a knack for hurting his former team, and tonight he pretty much won the game single-handedly.
The A's trio of Cespedes, Callaspo, and Nate Freiman — pinch-hitting for Daric Barton against the left-handed Glen Perkins — went quietly in the top of the 9th, giving Minnesota the win and preventing the A's from expanding their lead in the division. Given Barton's success lately, coupled with the fact that he's hitting .333 against lefties, I would have left him — this may have been another example of Bob Melvin being just a little too much of a traditionalist, but in a modern way. By that, I mean that his strategy of resource utilization (getting everybody at-bats in situations where they're most likely to be successful) is very modern and innovative, but at times like these, it seems to lack that final layer of research and logic, sticking with the simple "righties hit lefties better" philosophy.
Frankly, tonight's loss is less frustrating than it otherwise could have been, given that Jarrod Parker didn't pitch well by any stretch of the imagination. He gave up three walks and seven hits over six innings, yet managed to allow only two runs — both of which, strangely, came on solo home runs. Parker's been fantastic the last few months, and there's no sugarcoating it: he had an off night tonight, but didn't pay the price one would've expected him to given his stat line.
The good news, at least, is that Texas lost to the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates for the second straight night, leaving Oakland's lead in the AL West at two games and reducing the A's magic number in the division to 17.
The A's will try again tomorrow night against the Twins in another 5:10pm PT start. Baseballgirl will have your thread.