For seven innings, this game was a story about Jon Lester's continued dominance of the A's, Tommy Milone's continued ineptitude against the Red Sox, and a ho-hum loss to cap off a very successful homestand. And then the 2014 never-say-die Oakland Athletics did their thing, and the game ended with Sean Doolittle swinging a bat in the 10th. This game of baseball is crazy.
I'm generally going to gloss over the first seven innings.
Let's face it, they were relatively boring. Tommy Milone, just like he did at Fenway, loaded the bases in the first inning with a leadoff hit and a couple of walks. With two outs, Jonny Gomes hit a soft broken bat liner to plate two runs. 2-0 Sox.
Milone had trouble adjusting to the tight strike zone and flirted with control issues all game. He also had trouble serving up hittable pitches when he actually got into the zone. For example, David Ross' leadoff home run in the second inning.
Milone seemed to be settling down, but in the third inning the A's defense brainfarted. Milone had Jonathan Herrera picked off at first base with Mike Napoli at third. Herrera was able to extend a rundown, Napoli broke to home, Nick Punto threw high and towards the third base side, Derek Norris was positioned in front of the bag rather than in a traditional position (the plate blocking rules likely figured strongly in his position), and Norris couldn't get the tag down in time. 4-0 Red Sox.
The A's got one run back in the bottom half of the inning. Derek Norris reached on an error (charged to Xander Boegarts on a throw, but really should have been charged to Napoli). Kyle Blanks singled to move Norris over, and then Alberto Callaspo hit a catchable ball to Jonny Gomes that he misjudged and may have lost in the sun. It landed for a double and the A's were able to do what they didn't do in Boston, i.e. score on Lester. 4-1 Red Sox. Stephen Vogt followed with a grounder to short, and if Kyle Blanks had left right on contact from third, he might have scored. However with his slight hesitation, Jonathan Herrera was able to throw him out at home. Adding injury to insult, Blanks tweaked his calf and had to leave the game. Brandon Moss came in to replace him.
Milone looked as though he had settled down, but then he allowed a solo shot to Mike Napoli in the 5th. The fact that he made it through five was a minor miracle as he had nothing working.
Jim Johnson relieved him and pitched two solid innings, allowing only one baserunner who was quickly erased on a double play. He received a standing ovation from the Oakland faithful for his nice work.
Ryan Cook allowed a run in his appearance in the 8th on a Herrera triple to score Gomes (who went 3-5 with 2 RBI against his former squad). At this point it was 6-1 in the 8th inning and attention had firmly shifted to the USA-Portugal World Cup game.
Then the bottom of the 8th happened.
Jon Lester got the first two outs, but couldn't shut the door. He hit Craig Gentry, who promptly stole second base, and then walked Jed Lowrie. With two on, two out, John Farrell went to his trusty right hander of the sub-2 ERA, Burke Badenhop. With Badenhop pitching to Yoenis Cespedes (who until that point had a quiet game), Gentry stole third base. That was his 15th steal, and he hasn't been caught yet. Cespedes then hit a solid single up the middle to plate Gentry. 6-2 A's and the sellout crowd was roaring. All it took was the tiniest bit of a two out rally to get them back in it. They really went wild when Josh Donaldson singled to score Lowrie, and Norris somehow got a grounder through the infield to score Cespedes. All of a sudden it was 6-4 with the winning run at the plate.
Badenhopped off the mound and in came Andrew Miller to pitch to Brandon Moss. With the lefty on the mound, Coco Crisp was called upon to pinch hit for Moss on his garden gnome giveaway day, representing the winning run.
The crowd gave him a standing ovation when his name was announced. High, high drama.
He swung on the second pitch he saw, a 92 mph fastball, and seared a line drive to short. Herrera alertly reacted and made a nifty play to save at least one run, maybe two. And the storybook game for Coco was not to be. Seriously how amazing would it have been if Coco tied up the game at that moment, coming off the bench to pinch hit on a day in his honor? Sigh. With shutdown closer Koji Uehara coming in with a two run lead, A's fans would have been forgiven for feeling that a classic teAse was playing out. But given his loss yesterday and the A's fight in the bottom of the 8th, optimism was running high.
The top of the ninth was notable in that Coco took Moss' spot in the outfield, and Stephen Vogt saw his first time at first base at the major league level (after 68 games there in the minors). He didn't have any tough chances and did fine on the routine plays. Dan Otero shut down the Sox offense.
The A's came up to bat looking for pie two days in a row.
Alberto Callaspo weakly grounded out to lead off the inning and Stephen Vogt stepped up to bat.
With his fourth pitch, Uehara threw a hanging splitter down the middle that Vogt launched just over the Overstock.com sign near the rightfield foul pole. 6-5 Red Sox, and just one out in the ninth. With Punto coming up to bat, fans wondered why Jaso didn't pinch hit against a tough righty. Jaso was the last position player on the A's bench besides Eric Sogard, who we all know shouldn't pinch hit for anyone.
Punto popped out, and Jaso did come in for Craig Gentry. Gentry is one of the guys on the team that has zero chance to tie the game with one swing in that situation. Again, it's a waste of time to doubt Bob Melvin's pinch hitting magic.
So here was Jaso, with the A's down to their last out. Just to recap, the A's were all but dead to rights after seven listless innings, then suddenly broke through for three two-out runs in the eighth, a solo shot in the ninth, and with four runs in, two outs, bottom of the ninth, they had the tying run at the plate. That run was in the form of John Jaso, righty masher extraordinaire, against one of the game's premier closers. At this point, if Jaso popped out, I would have already been proud of the A's for never giving up and fighting 'til the last out.
Prior to his at-bat, a sign fell onto the field from the stands. It said "LOCO 4 COCO." Jackie Bradley Jr. was forced to grab it and dunk it over the left-field fence into the outfield stairwell. It seemed like a good omen, and a way for Uehara to have to nervously overthink the next at bat.
Just like yesterday's at-bat against Crisp, Uehara threw a first pitch fastball. Jaso crushed it to the RF bleachers, an absolute no doubt bomb. The crowd was absolutely delirious. The A's fans were stunned by ecstasy, the Sox fans by bewilderment. At that point we were clearly playing with house money. Jed Lowrie grounded out to end the inning, but it didn't matter. The A's just came back and tied the game in miraculous fashion.
Because of the crazy pinch hitting, injury and defensive substitutions, the A's had to shift everyone around. Punto went to 3B (from 2B), Callaspo went to 1B, Vogt went back to RF, Jaso was out of the game, and Sogard came in to play 2B.
Fernando Abad came in as the lefty specialist to face David Ortiz in the 10th.
Unfortunately, this mad scientist move didn't work out. The pitch wasn't really a bad pitch, but David Ortiz is an all-time great hitter and those guys tend to hit home runs in big moments. It just cleared the wall slightly opposite field in left center (the jagged edge may have saved the run, if it was over a few more feet) and the Red Sox took a 7-6 lead. Well, with what we had seen the last two innings, no one was giving up.
Abad got the next couple of outs but then Jonathan Herrera clocked Derek Norris in the ear or the side of the head with a vicious follow through. No harm was meant by the swing, but Norris seems to be getting smacked in the head by backswings on a near-daily basis. It was a scary moment as D-No was down for few moments. He eventually got up and asked to stay in, but Melvin and the trainers would have nothing of it. He went to a hospital after the game as a precaution.
The immediate concern besides Norris' injury is that there was literally no one left on the bench. So Donaldson came in from DH to play 3B, Punto moved to RF, Vogt moved to C (he went RF-1B-RF-C, which has to be extremely rare if not entirely unprecedented), and a pitcher was set to hit third in the bottom of the 10th.
It wasn't like the A's had some slouches coming up. Cespedes and Donaldson would get their chance against Uehara. Unfortunately they both meekly went down.
Fortunately we got to see Sean Doolittle come up to the plate.
The erstwhile first baseman (who once hit 30 homers in a minor league season, including Arizona Fall League) and current shutdown closer came in to face one of his late-inning brethren in Uehara. The crowd let out a long "DOOOOOOOOOOOOOO" and now undeniably got their money's worth.
Uehara clearly did not take any chances. Rather than going with the fastball, he lead with a fastball for a strike and went with his out pitch (the splitter) three straight times. That's three straight splitters against an American League relief pitcher. Way to ruin the fun. To his credit, Doolittle made contact with the third one, but he was only able to ground it out to Dustin Pedroia, and the Red Sox escaped their house of horrors by salvaging the last game of the series.
An excellent homestand.
The A's came through big time with a 7-3 homestand, and finally have a home record that equals their stellar road numbers. And they fought all the way back, scoring five runs in two innings when it looked like they had nothing on the day. They still have the best record in the division, AL and MLB, and hold the largest lead of any division leader. Moreover, they managed to pull off the rarest of sports events, the moral victory. I feel blessed to be a fan of a team that just never, ever quits in a day and age where so many professional athletes are content to mail it in.
The A's may have some roster moves to make with Josh Reddick ready to return from the disabled list, and Blanks and Norris with uncertain injury situations, so be prepared for a potentially active off day tomorrow. Whatever moves are made, here's a memo to the National League teams who may be unfamiliar with the A's: Be afraid. Be very afraid.