The A's have played a lot of good games this year. They've also played a lot of exciting games this year, complete with the heart-pounding adrenaline that comes with every pitch. But somehow, I doubt that any game they have played this year was as fully satisfying as this one. The spot-starting pitcher can only go four innings? No big thing; the bullpen can pitch five scoreless; even Jim Johnson got into the act, and Ryan Cook pulled together six outs like he was Doolittle. Not to mention, Abad got to hit A.J. Pierzynski and get a double-play to erase him from the bases. Doolittle got an honest-to-goodness one-run save opp and what does he do? Simply strikes out two in his sparkling ninth, holding the newly-gained lead and winning yet another game. The A's need some runs? Josh Donaldson had this handled, blasting a 3-run affair that kept the A's close until they could win the game. A really big error leads to Red Sox runs? Not a problem for the rest of the defense, who stepped it up all over the field, culminating in a diving play by Craig Gentry in center that saved the game for the A's. Derek Norris has to come out of the game? Not a problem for the A's; Vogt's at-bat nearly put the A's up an inning earlier. Need a pinch-hitter? Coco Crisp won the game off the bench with a brilliant single to right, scoring what would be the winning run. That's teamwork at its finest, and it's the hallmark of the 2014 Oakland Athletics, who are bigger than one player, and can overcome whatever baseball throws at them, night after night.
So I say that the A's stole this game, and in many ways they did; they parlayed six hits into four runs with the help of four walks, two key hit batters, and a couple of Red Sox mental errors, but yet again, this team doesn't steal anything or really even get that lucky. This win wasn't based off of luck; it was based off of the A's management needing to fill a starting role for tonight, throwing a lamb on the mound, and hoping to give the other starting pitchers an extra day of rest. This was a gravy game, in a very real way, and the A's turned it into one of their best wins. This was the triumph of one of the best designed bullpens working for once just like it should, mixed with some great defense to overcome the bad, and enough moving pieces and parts from the starting lineup and the bench to match up against anything with which Red Sox could counter. This game was a literal coin flip from the third inning on, but as the A's scratched and clawed and hung on to the game through the sixth, the tide very visibly turned in their direction. The A's good bullpen can outlast any other; it was only a matter of time until the A's offense came through and scored the elusive run for the win.
The A's only scored in the first and eighth innings tonight, so most of the game's excitement came through pitching and defense. After Brad Mills started his A's debut by striking out the side after mixing in a walk, the A's would get on the board with the fourth batter of the night; after a Craig Gentry single and a Yoenis Cespedes walk put two on for Donaldson. He promptly homered, with a big smile ear to ear, finally back to what we remember from before the dark times.
Staked to a 3-0 lead, Mills would...well, struggle. Yes, he walked four (he also struck out four), but he had a lot of help along the way. He gave up a single and a walk in the second, but with one out, he induced a tailor-made double-play ball to Nick Punto that would have ended the inning without a single run scoring. But Punto released the throw early and his error cost the A's two outs, and eventually two runs. Boston would have added on too, if not for an amazing diving catch by Craig Gentry that he turned into a double-play when Stephen Drew inexplicably kept running as if the ball wouldn't be caught by our awesome outfield, even though he would have scored from second had he waited anyway. I'm not complaining about anything Boston would like to give us, so there's that.
Unfortunately, Mills didn't do himself any favors in the third by walking the lead-off batter. You know what you shouldn't do as a pitcher trying to keep the other team, in this case Boston, off the scoreboard? You shouldn't walk people. Everyone hates it. It makes people angry. Learn from Sean Doolittle and his now 50/1 K/BB ratio. Yes, that is not a typo. Of course the lead-off walk scored to tie the game; that was inevitable. Another double-play kept the game tied, and allowed Mills another inning. Mills squeaked through the fourth inning, as well, putting another two runners on base, but escaping scoreless. At this point, with a tie game and many innings to go, the A's said, "Screw it all, we're pitching Jim Johnson!". In a normal world, it would be really fun to have a second, bonus closer on your team, that you could use, say in the fifth inning of games to keep the game tied. And because I'm not this funny, I'm pulling from Shea:
The One Dollar Man replaced by the Ten Million Dollar Man. Jim Johnson in for Brad Mills to start T5. #athletics #redsox— John Shea (@JohnSheaHey) June 21, 2014
Neither pitcher was a picnic to watch today, let me tell you. Johnson is nothing if not consistent; he started the inning with back-to-back singles. Yes, one was a great piece of hitting and one was opposite the shift, but he's burned the benefit of the doubt with us. He then struck out Napoli and Pierzynski, much to the real delight of the crowd, who I think was actually cheering. He should have struck out Gomes for the hat trick, but he just didn't get the call. And yes, obviously I get why; it probably surprised the umpire as much as it did us, but still. It was strike three and he was only going to throw one of those. The next one issued a walk. He did end the inning with a ground-out and no damage, but I think it's safe to say that the fans, online and in the park, the team, the manager and the coaches would rather not relieve those moments in this one, so Ryan Cook was called on to replace him in the sixth. Ryan Cook had the best outing he's had all year, and saved the game for the A's, retiring six Red Sox in order in the sixth and seventh innings, striking out three of the six, even with the wonky strike zone.
Meanwhile, Boston was snagging hard-hit balls all over the field all night, robbing the A's left and right. Brandon Moss still refuses to bunt for a hit, so he went 0-5 trying unsuccessfully to beat the shift. C'mon, Moss. You're a much better hitter when you have the whole field straight up, so when they give you a base hit, just take it until they remove the shift. I don't care if that means awkwardly bunting down the third base line until they stop you.
Coco Crisp pinch hit in seventh for Gentry and had a long at-bat, but it would ultimately end in an out. Spoiler alert: He would get another at-bat later in the game. Derek Norris, who would be later diagnosed with a contusion instead of a break, had to come out of the game in the seventh. He was replaced by Stephen Vogt, whose turn in the batting order came up after singles by Lowrie and Cespedes put two on with two out. Vogt had a really nice piece of hitting, considering he was facing a pitcher that Norris should face, taking the count full before nearly dropping the go-ahead single in front of the left fielder. The ball was caught, but the energy was there in the crowd and in the game threads, and A's fans everywhere sensed that it wouldn't be long until their A's won this game.
Fernando Abad was tasked with the eighth in this one, and despite hitting the lead off batter, he finished the inning neatly with a double-play and a strike out. Without Reddick in the dugout with pie ready, the A's decided to throw Doolittle a save and win in the eighth instead. The Red Sox kept Andrew Miller in the game in the eighth, and after striking out Moss, he hit both Blanks and Callaspo to put two runners on. After Nick "It totally wasn't my day on either side of the field" Punto struck out, Coco Crisp came up with a chance to put the A's ahead. He battled, argued a bad call, and looked annoyed, but he took what he was given, and took it to right field, scoring Kyle Blanks from second base to put the A's ahead 4-3. With Sean "Who needs insurance runs?" Doolittle's automatic, efficient and awesome closer-ing, the A's would win with minimal drama in the ninth to secure their fourth win in a row, a home and road record of 23-14, raising their winning percentage to .622 and their run differential to +135. I really don't know what else to say.
We'll see you here tomorrow afternoon as the A's go for their fifth win in a row and the series win against the Red Sox behind Jesse Chavez for the 1:05 start. If you want to relive this one, and to read some incredibly funny comments, you can visit the game threads, where tonight people even posted from somewhere beyond. Spooky.