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Game #10: Late Inning Rally Not Enough to Overcome Early Miscues

Well, at least this game turned out to be watchable after all. After a horrific start at the plate and in the field, which all but buried the quality work by Tommy Milone tonight, the A's put together one good inning to make the game interesting, but they didn't do nearly enough good to overcome the bad.

Otto Greule Jr

So the ironies of this game are not lost on me. I don't even know where to start; with the entire Seattle stadium wearing A's colors? Should I talk about the zen we were feeling down 6-0? In baseball, you win some, you lose some, and some nights you do absolutely everything wrong in every way, both on offense and defense, where everyone is equally spectacularly bad, and all you can say is you're glad it all happened in a single game. That was tonight; right up until about the 8th inning, when the game got a lot more interesting than it had any right to be. There also something poetic about using Jim Johnson in the absolutely perfect garbage inning, and having him pitch well, in a game that was completely out of reach at 6-0, only to have him come back out for his second inning of work in a close game, as the A's somehow closed the gap to 6-4, almost despite themselves. For what it's worth, with a little help from the generous strike zone, Johnson pitched well in his second inning of work, too; he struck out 4 in the two innings, and despite his best effort, didn't walk a batter. Also, the A's actually had a replay go their way, so there's that.

Here's all you need to know about the first seven innings, courtesy of Nico:

I just feel like if we only could have not made 3 defensive gaffes, given up a titanic HR, and failed to hit Felix Hernandez throughout the evening, we could be tied.

Everyone is used to seeing Felix Hernandez making the A's look like a Little League team on offense. Tonight was no exception; he and the home-plate ump struck out 11 batters (and Barton, Fuld, Cespedes, Moss, and Norris twice). And for those players vying to stay on the team on the 25 man roster? It was a tough call which one to send down, only because it appeared that they were both trying to go. And if the A's were perfectly inept at the plate, even facing an elite pitcher, they were way worse in the field.

The bottom of the first really set the tone for the A's, as Almonte hit a ball out to Cespedes; Cespedes overran the ball, and that, combined with a weird bounce, led to a lead-off double. The next batter bunted between Barton and Milone, no one was able to cover first, and just like that, there were runners on first and third with no one out. And the next play just summed it all up. Here's a video (it's under "Cano's RBI single", in which "single" is used very generously). Cano hit the ball to Barton, Barton panicked, thought about home, thought about second, finally threw to first; too late to get Cano. If it wasn't an actual physical error, it was certainly a mental one, but the end result was an earned run for Milone, that he didn't earn. And it's been said enough that the words don't even mean anything anymore; Barton is the equivalent of a pitcher hitting on offense right now (see qualifier: facing Felix Hernandez), but it was his defense that cost the A's a run in the first, and likely another later in the game.

With the insurmountable lead of 1-0, Hernandez continued to mow the A's down in order; they didn't collect their first hit until a one-out Lowrie single in the fourth, followed by an infield single by Donaldson. Moss (who was set-up by the first pitch "strike" call) and Cespedes both struck out, and the A's best chance to score was over before it began. Meanwhile, Milone gave up a deep fly ball that was initially ruled a home run, and overturned with replay, changing the score from 2-0 to 1-0, all the difference in the world against Felix Hernandez. After striking out that batter and the next, Milone looked to finish the inning with nothing more than a harmless two-out double. And then the ball was hit to Donaldson at third in what was an admittedly difficult play. He threw wildly to first, and Barton, instead of knocking down the ball, tried the Superman stretch, and missed the ball entirely, allowing the Mariners second run to score. While we were still wondering how we started watching a baseball game and ended up at the circus, Lowrie performed an encore by clanking a ball off his glove, allowing the third run to score. Meanwhile, Tommy Milone stood sadly on the mound, watching his quality start ride off with the bears on unicycles.

Alberto Callaspo tried to get the A's on the board in the fifth, as he led the inning off with a double, but an unproductive groundout by Norris and a Barton strikeout found him still at second base with two outs. Sogard would reach on an error, to put runners at first and third, and Sam Fuld struck out. There is so much what-ifs in this particular game, that it's not even worth it, but this game is completely different with Coco's bat in that spot. Fuld, of course, struck out (reminder: Felix Hernandez) to end the inning.

So as much as the 1st and 4th inning Seattle runs were not Tommy Milone's fault, the sixth was completely and utterly all him. A single and a moonshot added the 4th and 5th runs for Seattle, and Milone's night was over; and it probably should have ended after 5 high-stress, error-filled innings. He left after throwing 93 pitches, allowing the blemish of 10 hits--some of them were questionable to be sure--striking out 7 and walking no one, a very, very good sign. Honestly, with a better effort behind him, he goes six innings, and give up two runs. Not half bad for the 7th pitcher in line for a starting job, and I think there were a lot of positives to take away. The defense behind him wasn't one of them.

Drew Pomeranz, Milone's replacement, also allowed a home run of his own; putting the A's down 6-0 as we started the eighth. Another interesting thing about today's game: I didn't think it was possible to have your team score 4 runs in an inning and still feel like they failed somehow, but welcome to the eighth inning.

Daric Barton was hit by a pitch to start off the inning, while Sogard cracked a solid single off Hernandez to put two on. Hernandez was pulled after 104 pitches, and his replacement walked Sam Fuld to load the bases. Understandably unhappy with that move, Seattle changed pitchers again, and Farquhar walked Lowrie to walk in the A's first run. With the bases loaded and no one out, Donaldson froze on strike three and struck out looking, a dagger in the inning, despite all of the runs. Enter the fourth Seattle pitcher, Furbush, who allowed a broken bat single to Moss, which scored Sogard, and re-loaded the bases for Cespedes as the tying run. With the count 1-0, Cespedes scoffed at taking the pedestrian ball 2, and swung outside the strike zone as hard as he could, grounding the ball to third base. Only the fact that he actually busted his ass out of the box to expose Seattle's lazy doubleplay turn, prevented the inning from ending, and a run scored on that play and on the subsequent wild pitch, inching the A's closer at 6-4. Callaspo popped up to end the inning.

Jim Johnson pitched both the seventh and the eighth innings, and the A's tried valiantly to make a winner out of him; the pinch-hitting Jaso led off the ninth with a double. But Barton popped up and Sogard struck out, and even the pinch-hitting Coco Crisp couldn't quite get it done for the A's, although it was great to see him up there. And I guess it's a small victory to have multiple late chances to tie the game, in a game that was all but out of reach from the start.

The A's had no business winning this game, and it was nice just to see a late-inning effort. Let's burn this one as a "Felix start" and win the series this weekend. We do it again tomorrow night; we'll see you right here!