This was a game for the ages tonight; it wasn't the prettiest, the sharpest, the most fun, or the most exciting, but it delivered a little bit of everything, including nine drama-filled innings alternately titled, "Staked to a 3-0 lead with no other offense expected, can Tommy Milone and the bullpen earn a win this time?"
Tonight's game was eerily similar to Tommy Milone's last start; the only game the A's have lost in their last 12. In that game, the A's took their two hits (both solo home runs) and two runs into the eighth inning before the bullpen finally gave up a big hit to lose the only game in what would have been a current twelve-game winning streak. Instead, the A's find themselves winners of five in a row; with one loss sandwiched between last week's six wins in a row as they take the field tomorrow behind Sonny Gray, trying to sweep the Rays and notch another six-game win streak.
To be fair, I did warn you at the start of this game that we were using the "B" lineup tonight, and it did not disappoint; striking out eleven times; six against starter Erik Bedard. However, they did work seven walks, and two of them were the difference in the game. Luckily, our starting pitching just can't seem to lose, even if the offense only did manage a single hit in nine innings, and Tommy Milone picked up the most unlikely of wins in his nearly six innings of work today.
I'm not sure what was more unusual in the second inning of this game: The fact that the A's were leading the Rays by the score of 2-0 with the Rays outhitting them 3-0, or the fact that the A's severely underperformed in scoring just the 2 runs; the Rays were trying to spot the A's 6-8 runs in the second, and the A's were bound and determined to not let them. The A's actually hit into two double plays in the second after an error allowed Yoenis Cespedes to get to first, and back-to-back walks to Derek Norris and Brandon Moss loaded the bases, but after Alberto Callaspo struck out, Josh Reddick not only didn't get himself doubled up on his ground ball to second, but the second baseman threw the ball into the outfield to allow two to score, earning Reddick a RBI on the play. Nick Punto promptly grounded out into a double play of his own, and Tampa Bay turned that one successfully after their previous two errors in the inning. A two-run error early in a normal game is usually survivable, but the magic of tonight's game was strong with the A's. Aside from one other at-bat, the A's pitching would hold an entire baseball game on the strength of that one error.
Tommy Milone had exactly the opposite inning in the second. Josh Reddick recorded the first out against the Rays with a great catch down the line. After a single and a double put runners on second and third with one out, Milone got a line-out and a pop-up to end the inning. So for those of you keeping score, the A's scored two runs on zero hits, and Tampa Bay scored zero runs with their two hits, one of the extra base variety. With the help of the two walks and four strikeouts, the A's forced Erik Bedard to throw 60 pitches in the first three innings without even recording a hit.
Brandon Moss got to Bedard in the fourth, hitting a solo home run that was the A's first, best, and only hit, staking Tommy Milone to a 3-0 lead. Bedard lasted into the sixth inning, allowing no further damage, but Milone's sixth was his rocky inning. He allowed a lead-off single to open the inning, and walked his only batter of the night to put two on with no outs. He would give up the run-scoring single to the next batter, cutting the score to 3-1, but he would induce two pop-ups for two outs and you could tell he wanted the third. He was replaced by Fernando Rodriguez, who allowed a single to score the Rays' second run (and Milone's lone walk), but he would get out of the inning with the lead still intact.
At no point in this mess did I actually think the A's would refuse to get another hit and still win the game. I've seen how this game plays out, and literally no one successfully completes the one-hit win; even the most magical of A's couldn't manage the rare two-hit win last week. The A's collected two more walks in the eighth and two more walks in the ninth to tease the bats, but not one A's hitter took the bait.
Gregerson managed to get the first out of the eighth, but he allowed two singles to put two more men on base for the Rays. Fernando Abad took over and walked the bases loaded with his first hitter, but all-but-won the game on the double-play he induced, even with the mildly off-target throw by Sogard on the turn; Moss applied the tag for the out before the runner got to first. Because we have Abad to use in the 'pen, Sean Doolittle is able to be our closer, and no one was more excited to see him in the ninth than I.
Of course, nothing is easy when you're trying to out-and-out steal a game. Doolittle got a strikeout and two pop-ups, which should have ended the game, but the first pop-up played in Tampa Bay, ricocheting off a speaker high in the ceiling of the dome and landing in fair territory for a base hit, forcing Doolittle to face Wil Meyers as the winning run. After a dramatic eleven-pitch at-bat (which included the only non-fastball Doolittle threw in his outing), Doolittle got the strike out and the A's won--no stole--this game. On the days when we point out our own unfairness in this unfair game, remember that Tampa Bay threw a combined one-hitter and lost this game. Kudos to Tommy Milone, who was probably seeing déjà vu all over again in the late innings, and I'm not quite ready to call him a closer per se, but Doolittle does have back-to-back saves in his acting closer role. And a whole lot of strikeouts.
This one was wacky, and fun, and keeps the A's rolling, and that's all you can ask of the May road trip from hell; the A's already have a winning record on this 9-game road trip with four games still to play. They also are the proud owners of the very best record in the Major Leagues and the first team to 30 wins. The A's will try to make it 6 in a row again behind Sonny Gray in tomorrow's 1:10 start as the A's try to sweep the Rays before taking Toronto by storm. I'll be your host again tomorrow; see you at lunch!