Our tour begins here. Welcome to Friday the 13th, 2013, where the Oakland Athletics nearly did throw the kitchen sink at the Rangers in a knock-down, drag-out fight for the AL West. Imagine the setting. You're drinking wine out of the Haunted Mansion wine glass, as I was; seemed fitting, watching the A's build a lead, hanging out in seven different game threads with friends, when...suddenly: ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKE JACK A DULL BOY. REDRUM. It was bad, Mama. They laughed at me. Hold me, Mama. Please hold me. In the lake, the one - the one who attacked me - the one who pulled me underneath the water. Look! It's moving. It's alive. It's alive... It's alive, it's moving, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, IT'S ALIVE! I see dead people. Oh death, and grief and sorrow and murder.
Four hours and nine minutes later, the A's emerged from the game, bruised, blooded, but victorious, and as insane as the game was, that's the only thing that we--and the team--should remember. The A's won 9-8 tonight, took the first game of the series, and now hold a 4.5 game lead over the Rangers. How they got there is a story entirely on its own.
There wasn't one moment in the first seven innings that I didn't think the A's nine runs were more than enough to win. How can you blow a 7-run lead in six outs? Finding out cost me a refill of wine, large clumps of hair, most of my fingernails, and I'm still not sure my heart or blood pressure would register within normal limits. Although the offensive heroes of the game will be listed as the red-hot Cespedes, Donaldson (whose father saw him play for the first time tonight), and Moss, the true hero of tonight's game was Sean Doolittle, and by extension a ballsy Bob Melvin, who left Doolittle in to close the ninth, where he struck out the side for the all-important save; the only member of our vaunted trio of late-inning arms that we really wanted in the game when the season was on the line.
Here's the thing. I've taken a lot of crap for my visceral reaction when Ryan Cook enters a ballgame. I was against using Cook these days in a high-leverage role well before tonight. I've been obsessively watching his numbers. True, he was once our best reliever. From March 31 - July 31, his WHIP was 1.06. I've been panicked about him for a while. Not including tonight, his WHIP is 1.77 since August 1st, and I'm going to guess that his terrific outing tonight isn't going to better those numbers. He's given up 19 hits and 7 walks in 14.2 innings BEFORE TONIGHT, and I have no desire to relive the eighth inning to correct those numbers to current, but they're not good. Right now, Ryan Cook is a liability in the 'pen, despite having a pretty great year overall. And I've heard the argument that he only needs to pitch the start of an inning, without runners on, but you can't be a set-up man and not be asked to come into high-leverage situations. It's just not possible. And as we have all lived through, sweated through, and died a little during recent Balfour saves, he has struggled too. I don't know what to do; we're probably going to the playoffs with all three of them for the 7th, 8th and 9th innings, but it doesn't mean I won't stress the close game.
But because Melvin used Doolittle, the A's won the one game they needed to; they have taken the opener of the AL West-deciding series, which means they are 4.5 games ahead instead of 2.5, and although they would like to beat Yu Darvish tomorrow morning, they don't have to.
The A's jumped out to a lead in the very first inning as a single by Crisp to open the game, and a walk for Donaldson put two on early against Derek Holland. This set the table for Yoenis Cespedes, who has come alive in September, and he made Holland pay with a 3-run home run to give the A's the early lead. Dan Straily, on a quest for his 10th win of the season, gave up two runs of his own after he walked the first two batters he saw. (The A's pitching staff would walk 8 in the game.) With the A's leading 3-2, and the Rangers still in the game, each pitcher could either step up and shut the other team down, or not, and Straily did, and Holland didn't. Straily left the game up 9-2, after pitching 5.2 innings, giving up 2 earned runs on two hits, walking four and striking out four.
Meanwhile, Josh Donaldson made it 4-2 with a solo home run in the third inning, and 6-2 in the fourth inning, doubling in Norris and Suzuki, who kicked Holland out of the game with back-to-back singles. Holland was tagged with all six runs. Callaspo walked to open the fifth inning, and Young and Norris singled to load the bases. Suzuki walked in the A's 7th run, and Crisp hit a sac fly for the A's 8th. After Donaldson walked to load the bases with one out, Lowrie hit into a double-play; seemingly meaningless at the time, but would loom large late in the game. Brandon Moss homered in the sixth for the A's 9th run, none of us ever dreaming that it would be the winning one.
But the Rangers came back. Down 9-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning, a single, a HBP, and a walk knocked Straily out of the game with two outs, in favor of Jerry Blevins. With the bases loaded, Blevins threw behind the batter, and only a spectacular save by Kurt Suzuki saved the run from scoring; again, a nice play at the time, but a game-saving one in hindsight. Blevins and Otero (who is not yet on paternity leave) retired the Rangers in the seventh, and Brett Anderson came in to start the eighth. And then, all hell broke loose.
Anderson walked both batters he faced to start of the inning, always the preferred outcome in a 9-2 game, before he seemed to twist his ankle and go down. He left the game with "back spasms", and I honestly am numb to Anderson's Harden-esque outings. If he's in and healthy, he's a huge boost to the team, but I can't quite make myself believe that he will stay that way. He was replaced by Jesse Chavez, who did not play the role of hero tonight (although in retrospect, I would have rather he finished the inning, and I suspect I'm not alone in that). With runners on first and second, Chavez got the strikeout for the first out, but gave up a single to load the bases. He ran a full count on Profar, and Profar was rung up on a 3-2 pitch that, well, wasn't a strike. I've seen worse, but I wouldn't have called it. It probably should have walked in a run. It was a good thing it didn't, since the single after scored the third run, and re-loaded the bases. Enter Ryan Cook, and cue the horror music. Seriously, like Jaws.
Cook walked the first batter he saw on four straight pitches. Unfortunately for him, the bases were loaded at the time, so the Rangers crept closer; 9-4, bases still loaded. Then, he gave up a single, and two more scored. It's 9-6. And then, it's a passed ball, and the runners advance to second and third. He gives up another single. It's 9-8. Good-bye, Ryan Cook. Enter Sean Doolittle, with two outs and a runner at first. He gives up a single. Only Cespedes would throw to third base, trying to catch the eager Alex Rios, who is likely making a mistake running with two outs, but he should be safe easily. And he was, but Cespedes' terrific throw made it close enough that Rios was called out. He was safe, and argued his case; knocking himself out of the game via ejection, and somehow eventually got Matt Garza ejected too, since Garza is a really bad sport who can't stay out of other people's fights. It's not a terrific way to end the inning with that kind of a call, but even with a safe call, Doolittle still had the lead with runners at first and third. And this has been a season with every single break going against the A's; luck definitely turned to the green and gold tonight. Hell, NO MERCY. I want the A's to win the West.
The A's were retired quietly but for a walk by Coco in the ninth, and Melvin endeared himself to every fan who was barely hanging on by leaving Doolittle in the game. Although he gave up a 2-out double, Doolittle struck out the side, and the umpire K'd Profar again to end the game. It was a perfect call, right down the middle, freezing the hitter, and firing up Doolittle to playoff levels, and sending a whole lot of A's fans into a frenzy. It's also worth mentioning that the A's now have 5 pitchers with 10 wins, which includes Milone in the 'pen.
We won this one. Our lead is 4.5, our magic number is 12, we're 3 games behind Boston and 1 ahead of Detroit for the best record in the AL, and the Wild Card is getting crowded without us in the fray. The A's need to keep the pedal to the metal tomorrow morning in a quick turnaround as they try to steal a game from Darvish tomorrow. It's breakfast with the A's, 10:05 tomorrow, Colon will be taking on Darvish. Special props to drink409 for the Horror recap idea. You've been a great audience.