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Game #52: A's Hit Tigers' Ace, But Lose To Bullpen

The pitching duel that was anything but went the Tigers' way today as Sonny Gray and Max Scherzer both went six innings, with Gray giving up 4 earned runs, and Scherzer 5. But the A's bullpen would give up two additional runs to lose the game, while the Tigers' pen would blank the A's the rest of the way.

Thearon W. Henderson

I'm not sure what frustrates an A's fan more: A game like this? Or the one where Max Scherzer dominates the A's and they lose while being 3-hit? Either way, no one in green and gold is feeling good about this game when the A's squandered plenty of other chances to score, and practically handed the Tigers a run. Forget practically, the A's fell asleep at a critical moment and Rajai Davis took full and complete advantage, single-handedly winning the game for the Tigers.

It was a shame to lose after the playoff-like energy going into today's game. Clips were shown of last year's playoff series (MY EYES!), the energy was there, the ballpark was humming, but once again, the A's bullpen just couldn't get the job done. Before you look at the box score and see that Luke Gregerson allowed another inherited runner to score (and he did), I have to preempt this recap with the disclaimer that this one really wasn't his fault. Dan Otero earned the blown save, Fernando Abad earned the loss, and for once, these categories show exactly what happened.

You'd like to think that scoring five runs off the Tigers' ace would lead to a win, but unfortunately, Gray was mortal in a game where the A's just needed him to be slightly better than okay, and certainly not allowing his season-high in earned runs. It wasn't that he pitched all that badly; it was more the awful location of a handful of pitches.  He put the A's down 2-0 before they ever took their first swing against Scherzer as a one-out double by Hunter and a Cabrera single scored the first Tigers' run, and a walk and a double scored their second and put a runner at third with one out. Gray would get out of the inning with no further damage, but it set the tone for the evening.

The A's had an even more promising start to their first inning as Coco worked a 3-1 count before lacing a double down the line, but he was thrown out trying to steal third on the subsequent pitch. It was a perfect pitch and a perfect throw, and despite using the challenge (and Coco's running start), the call stood. I admire the hustle, and trying to catch the pitcher and catcher off-guard on that very first pitch was a great idea, but as everyone knows, you can't make the first or third out at third base. If you're going to steal third to help your team against an elite pitcher, you had better be safe.

The A's would tie the game in the second inning on a Cespedes single, a Lowrie double, and a Callaspo single, but Gray would give up a home run to Cabrera to put the Tigers back up at 3-2. The funny thing about Miguel Cabrera is that you never truly have him fooled. One pitch after awkwardly flailing at the ball for his second strike (possibly to avoid hitting it weakly, and possibly to avoid getting hurt on the swing), he connected hard with the belt-high, 1-2 fastball that caught too much of the plate. It was painfully reminiscent of Game 5 last year, but with a fraction of the impact. But a 1-2 pitch to Cabrera should never be that hittable.

John Jaso was hit by a pitch to lead off the third, leaving a nasty welt on his arm, and Donaldson walked behind him to put two on to start the inning, but Brandon Moss had absolutely horrific at-bats against Scherzer and was unable to move the runners. Cespedes struck out to follow Moss, and Lowrie grounded out.

The Tigers would pick up another run in the fourth on a single and a double, but the A's would come back again in their half of the inning, with a little help from Scherzer. Reddick led off the inning with a single and Callaspo moved him to third on a single of his own. With Eric Sogard batting, Scherzer faked a throw to third base, but since the third baseman was nowhere near the bag, the correct call of a balk was made, and the A's stole a run to close the gap to 4-3. Sogard's medium-deep fly ball would have scored the run anyway, and it did move the second runner to third base with one out, but after taking a mildly nasty 2-2 pitch, Crisp struck out on a spectacularly nasty 3-2 pitch. Luckily, John Jaso and his elephant arm (see photos of his HBP if you don't believe me) knocked the second pitch he saw into the stands to give the A's the 5-4 lead.

Reddick made a nice catch, crashing up against the wall to open the fifth inning, and after a two-out single by the Tigers, Jaso and his elephant arm threw out the runner trying to advance to second on a wild pitch. Gray would make it through the sixth inning before he took his 102 pitches to the dugout. Dan Otero replaced him for the seventh and after Donaldson made a nice play to get the second out of the inning, two pitches later, the ball was sent (barely) over Coco's glove and over the fence, tying the game at five. C'mon, bullpen! There are days when we are going to give you a one-run lead instead of ten, and you're just going to have to be better at not giving up runs. And yes, I know it's the Tigers, which should actually make Tommy Milone's start last night look that much better; am I right?

The A's couldn't score their lead-off walk in the seventh, as Norris pinch-hit for Jaso, and they would screw up the game 8 ways to Sunday in the eighth. Abad started the inning with an out, and then promptly walked the next batter. Seriously, bullpen, with the walks and the home runs and things! Rajai Davis is on the bench to pinch-run in situations like this for one reason. He advanced to second on a passed ball by Norris, and on the next pitch, as Norris threw the ball back to Abad, who never looked at the runner, Davis sauntered to third base. As the winning run. In a 5-5 game. With one out.

After Abad walked his second batter to put runners on first and third, Melvin decided that was enough of Abad, so he replaced him with Luke "I'll score all the inherited runners" Gregerson. He made a great pitch that nearly netted him a double play as Lowrie had to range a bit too far before he could pick up the ball and throw to second, so the relay to first was just late, but it was enough to give the Tigers a 6-5 lead, one that would finally hold. Gregerson held the Tigers scoreless through the ninth, but the damage was already done.

Kinsler made an amazing play to end Sogard's bid for a lead-off hit in the ninth, and Crisp and Norris A's followed suit meekly with a ground-out and a strikeout.

Ugh. This is the game the A's wanted, and needed, as the Angels are red-hot, and have now closed the gap to 1.5 games with an imminent weekend showdown in the works after the A's have to play the Tigers for two more. I'll be your host tomorrow night as Kazmir locks up with Sanchez. Same time, same place, hoping for a wildly different outcome.