To break the Angels' heart with a 2 run homer in the ninth inning is fun. To completely demoralize them by erasing a lead and putting them away with runners on second and third in the bottom of the eleventh...is there even a word for that? It's still hard to fully immerse in the warm, happy victory after sitting on pins and needles for four and a half hours and feeling your stomach getting tossed around like a rag doll. As if we didn't have enough stress on tax day already. However at this point in the afterglow, imagining the Angels and their fans...yeah, that sweet sweet feeling is setting in.
The A's lineup doesn't have the fear factor of Trout and Pujols back to back. However Oakland does have some seriously good hitters top to bottom* that can hurt a team in so many ways. Also, the A's bullpen is as good as advertised, with five relievers giving up only three runs over the course of 7 1/3 innings.
To rewind from the end of the game all the way back to the first inning, from Jim Johnson surviving as the unlikely winner by the thinnest of margins to Dan Straily stepping on the mound feels like going back through not just one game.
Straily started off shakily, and got worse. Kole Calhoun, who made a strong case today to stay in the leadoff spot despite his sub-.300 OBP, immediately smacked a belt-high changeup to right. Mike Trout pulled an inside fastball right down the leftfield line, scoring Calhoun. Two batters in, the Angels had a 1-0 lead with no outs. The Angels eventually plated Trout to take a 2-0 lead, but those pesky A's answered back.
The slumping Josh Reddick started off the third inning with a walk, which was the best that he could have hoped for given how things are going. That walk turned out to be valuable. Craig Gentry and Eric Sogard knocked back-to-back singles to score Reddick. Jed Lowrie ("PROFESSIONAL HITTER") took a hanging curveball from Angels' starter Garrett Richards and sent it the other way to leftfield to score them both, giving the A's a 3-2 lead. This was the first time any team got to Richards this season, so it appeared the A's were on their way. The only troubling moment was yet another baserunning miscue; Jed Lowrie was on second with one out, Donaldson scorched a single but when Lowrie held up at third, Pujols cut off the throw from Kole Calhoun and got Donaldson who was in no man's land between first and second base.
Going into the bottom of the fourth, it seemed that Straily might have settled in, but Calhoun got him again, this time with a 2-run jack to cap off a four run fourth. The Angels took a 6-3 lead.
With the way the A's got to Richards, knowing the Angels bullpen, and with five innings left, closing the three run gap felt eminently doable. It took a couple of innings; Drew Pomeranz was a key to the comeback as he went 2 2/3 innings and only allowed one baserunner in a stellar appearance.
In the seventh Josh Reddick kicked off another rally with a one-out walk. Gentry and Sogard again followed up with singles, and again Pujols smartly cut off a throw, this time getting Sogard napping between first and second after his base hit. The rallies were eerily similar. Luckily Richards gifted a run back with a wild pitch to allow Gentry to score, and it was 6-5 heading into the 8th. I believe most A's fans liked the team's chances down one run against the Angels bullpen.
However, the Angels did make a move this offseason to bolster the 'pen. They signed Joe Smith, one of the best middle relievers on the market, to be their setup man. Of course Mike Scoscia had already used him in four of the past five games, but he rolled the dice on the fifth of sixth games. And that's when the fun really started.
Jed Lowrie led off, working an eight pitch walk while fouling off some tough pitches. Josh Donaldson took a less patient tack, smashing a grounder to left. Brandon Moss sent a hot potato that went right through Albert Pujols to score Lowrie. Moss almost pulled the exact same thing that Sogard and Donaldson did before him, but he managed to awkwardly fall backwards in the vicinity of the bag. Smith, obviously flustered, walked Cespedes on four pitches after a conference on the mound. Bases loaded, no outs, one run in, and the A's hottest hitter stepped up to the plate in the form of Alberto Callaspo.
The hot dog did what he's been doing so far, pulling a solid line drive to right, plating Donaldson. With the bases still loaded, still no outs, Scoscia decided he had to pull Smith for Jose Alvarez. The platoon-crazed Melvin again made a brilliant pinch hitting move, sending in Derek Norris to step in for Josh Reddick. I don't remember the last time I saw this, but Alvarez lasted exactly one pitch, which pitch was stroked by Norris up the middle to score two more runs and put the A's up 9-6. That's how you break an 0-23 with runners in scoring position streak.
The A's didn't score again, but with the shutdown bullpen it wouldn't be a problem holding a three run lead for two innings. Right? Ryan Cook and Dan Otero combined to finish off the eighth inning allowing one run. So far so good. With Luke Gregerson unavailable after pitching three straight days, Sean Doolittle stepped in for the save. It was a tough assignment as the Angels had the top of the order coming up. Of course, Kole Calhoun doubled, and perhaps the most dangerous hitter in the American League stepped to the dish. Mike Trout did what a superstar player is supposed to do in a big moment; he parked the ball in the outfield rockpile. Tie ballgame, and still no outs. The half-full Angels crowd (many had left after the A's took the lead) was sent into a tizzy.
I can't really fault Doolittle for blowing a save against the best player in baseball. It happens. To his credit, he settled down and limited the damage, keeping alive the A's chances.
In the top of the 10th, the A's threatened against Ernesto Frieri but did not score. Coco Crisp was brought in as a pinch hitter with two on, but couldn't deliver. I just get the feeling Coco is not suited to pinch hitting; he likes his routine, he like being "the guy" and, coming off of multiple injuries, he probably needs to get back in the swing of things. It's hard to do that being thrown into the most critical situation in the game and being asked to deliver.
No one could draw up a better opportunity for redemption for Jim Johnson (or, if you're a glass half-empty person, a worse setup for devastating failure). The A's were down to their last two pitchers, and Johnson was the logical choice over Fernando Abad. In eight pitches, Johnson retired the bottom of the Angels' order, and we moved on to the 11th.
The Angels don't have the luxury of sending in a guy with back-to-back 50 save seasons as their 5th reliever. They have a 33-year old journeyman Cuban out of the independent leagues, Yoslan Herrera. The poor guy had no chance. Lowrie immediately stroked a single, and Donaldson followed with a laser single pulled down the left field line all the way to the wall, scoring Lowrie and giving Johnson the chance to earn his second win.
Of course, Johnson wouldn't have it easy; ironically, he was handed the top of the order just like Doolittle two innings before. The inning started off with Kole Calhoun out on a routine grounder. Unfortunately in an ugly moment, he rolled his ankle on the base hustling down the line, and he will be heading to the disabled list (possibly making Anaheim a destination for Sam Fuld).
Trout used his blazing speed to leg out a chopper, and then used it again to steal second for his first stolen base of the season. Trout was worth every penny and then some in the clutch moments tonight. Norris couldn't have made a better throw, but Trout just beat it. With Trout at second and only one out, the butterflies started to rise again. Would Jim Johnson blow it again?
After Trout's steal, Johnson intentionally walked Pujols. For once, A's Killer Raul Ibanez did not in fact kill the A's. He grounded out to move the runners up a base. The drama level just ratcheted up another notch. Johnson was either going to be the hero of the game or forever persona non grata in Oaktown. Luckily, we didn't have to wait long, as Howie Kendrick hit a first-pitch grounder (a Johnson sinker inducing a grounder! So that's how it's supposed to work.) to Lowrie, and the A's escaped by the skin of their teeth.
Who's ready for the game tomorrow?
*Daric Barton not included