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Game #152: Balfour Blown Save Leads to Series Loss for A's; Griffin Start Squandered, Magic Number Remains 6

Just another day at the ballpark, where everyone collectively says, "Thank God this wasn't the playoffs!" Whatever, it's a loss. They happen to good teams over the season. More concerning however, continues to be the bullpen struggles of first Ryan Cook and now Grant Balfour, who have pitched a full season, yet need to be a whole lot sharper than they have been, and they need to do it in about 10 days.

Norm Hall

UPDATE: We have a magic number of 5! Thank you to the Rays, who are trying to hang onto their own playoff hopes.

I'd be a lot madder about today's loss if we didn't hold a 6-game lead over the Texas Rangers with 10 games to play, but it doesn't mean I still can't be frustrated. The A's blew another game late after Balfour wasted the brilliant pitching performances in front of him by A.J. Griffin and Dan Otero, giving up a game-tying two-run home run in the ninth inning. The bullpen arms who followed him; Chavez, Blevins, Neshek and Anderson, would allow the Angels just one run (put on base by Chavez, scored by Blevins), but it was enough for the loss. No magic number change here, nothing to see, move along.

I have a few things to say to Balfour after all of the talk about Doolittle closing in his stead, and they mostly stem from this tweet from John Shea:

That's a jack*ss move. You blew the save, you ruined the game singlehandedly; it was your inning, your runners, your home run. Why should you let the rest of your team, who did their jobs, field the questions about your loss? You are miffed that people think Doolittle should close instead? I'm sure that this is super helping your cause, there. It certainly makes me like you less than I did after you told us we were all bad fans for being concerned that you seem to put a lot of runners on base.

Anyway, what do you really want to know about today's game? There were four two-run home runs hit in the game to account for all of the regular-inning scoring. Mike Trout got the Angels on the board in the first with his, and Coco Crisp tied the game with his 20th!! of the season in the third, and Yoenis Cespedes followed that up with a home run of his own to give the A's the 4-2 lead. Side note: I did not think that Crisp and Cespedes would be in a home run contest, but it's currently 20 to 24. The A's kept the lead through the entire game, until Grant Balfour. With a two-run lead in the ninth inning of a game your team would really like to win, and Trout and Hamilton coming up, you can afford a) one home run from one of them or b) to put a runner on base, but not both. And he did both, giving up a lead off single, retiring Trout, but succumbing to Hamilton. Which is extra obnoxious, because, you see, the count was 0-1, and Hamilton is a free-swinger. So probably, that pitch shouldn't have been right down the middle of the plate, especially with a runner on, and Trout already retired, but there it was. I'm sure that felt good for Hamilton, who was on the receiving end of Balfour's demonstrative strikeout the last time these two teams faced off. Of all the players to challenge, this wasn't the one. Balfour's fastball isn't better than Hamilton's bat, and considering the circumstances, might I suggest four pitches out of the zone?

The A's went 1, 2, 3 in the bottom of the ninth and eleventh innings, and wasted a lead-off walk in the tenth, but a double, a sac bunt, and a Josh Hamilton sac fly against Chavez and Blevins would be all the Angels would need to knock off the A's.

Sure, there were other things in this game; a mysterious strike zone at times; the A's got Atlanta'd over a stupid infield fly play, where Grant Green dropped a ball (shocker!) that should have been a hit, but instead was called an infield fly, and we made some outs on the basepaths, but the bottom line is the A's held a 4-2 lead in the ninth inning with the "closer" on the mound. That should be a win, and it wasn't. And it cost A.J. Griffin his 15th win, in a game where he allowed one hit. In six innings. At least he's ready for the playoffs.

The Rangers have an early lead, so it's possible that the A's won't gain any ground on the magic number today. Too bad; 5 is my favorite number, and I was totally going to post a picture of Matt Holliday for the magic number countdown. I'M KIDDING! (About Holliday, not 5 being my favorite number, 'cause it is.)

Update: Want panic for the playoffs? Try this:

The A's take on the Twins tomorrow night as the weekend at home counts down. Dan Straily takes on Kevin Correia. We'll be here at 7:05.