Fuld: "An ugly win is as good as any kind of win. It certainly wasn't our best baseball game but shoot, you can't be picky at this point."— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) August 28, 2014
There were more than a few moments in this one that caused even the most stalwart A's fans to be sick with frustration at the offense, who looked for all the world like they were going to leave their starting pitching out to dry in the early innings and their bullpen in the late ones. The A's wasted all of their early chances to score, and when they finally did break through in the sixth, it was for one lone run, which they promptly gave back. To their credit, they did not give up; they would go ahead again with a solo home run in the seventh, but Houston turned up like a bad penny and scored two to both tie the game and take the lead. The A's went meekly in the eighth, and barely avoided Houston adding on, but the fearless, if not supremely irritating to watch, Oakland Athletics struck for three runs in the ninth to take the lead, and despite Chris Carter's best efforts, the A's kept enough Houston runners off the bases to hang on to this one for the series win.
Save for one half-inning, this was not a fun game to watch. Trust me, as someone who dropped a loud four-letter word in front of my entire visiting family when Houston scored their third run, this was a game better watched with the outcome certain. The A's were one big tease from the first until the eighth inning; just nothing would go their way, and it looked like for all the world like we were heading for a repeat of last night's disaster.
There is nothing more we could have asked for from tonight's starting pitcher, as Drew Pomeranz pitched into the sixth inning, allowing nothing but an unearned run, holding Houston to three hits and a walk, while striking out seven. I will take that performance every night, and I'm glad the A's ultimately won his game, even if they couldn't make him the game-winner. I'm sure, like the rest of the starting staff, and all the fans, Pomeranz was wondering just what he had to do to get the offense into gear. Brad Peacock should have been enough for the A's struggling hitters; yet he left the game at the exact same time as Pomeranz, allowing just four hits and a single earned run. The annoying part? He walked five batters, and the A's just kept them on base.
In the very first inning, the A's started the game with an infield single by Coco and a one-out hit-by-pitch to Josh Donaldson, putting two runners on and putting the A's in business. After Vogt flew out, Moss walked to load the bases, but Norris struck out to end the inning, and to take Peacock off the hook. Josh Reddick singled to open the second inning, but he was erased by Alberto Callaspo, who more and more, I would like to see in a footrace with Bengie Molina, because I'm not sure that he would win.
The game just kept humming along, as Pomeranz struck out the side in the second, and Peacock struck out the side in the fourth. This riveting contest was interrupted briefly by a lead-off walk by Callaspo in the fifth inning, but he was thrown out at the plate on a two-out, full-count double from Sam Fuld to deny the A's their first run. I mean, c'mon. There were two outs. The count was 3-2. Callaspo had to be moving on the very motion of the pitch! It was a double! And he was out fairly easily. I'm not sure I couldn't have beat that out, and I'm being serious. In case you ever wondered why Callaspo hits into a lot of double-plays, now you know. He should be sponsored by the La Brea Tar Pits. I can joke now. I can assure you that at the time, it was far from funny.
Despite Pomeranz' disappointment at the lack of runs, he pitched a perfect fifth and the A's rewarded him in the sixth. Josh Donaldson drew a lead-off walk and was doubled to third by a nice double by Brandon Moss. After Norris walked to load the bases with one out, Chapman replaced Peacock and Jonny Gomes greeted the newcomer with a sac fly; the only run the A's would get that inning. The 1-0 lead was short-lived as Eric Sogard seemed to make an error to put Altuve on base. In his defense, the ball took a weird hop from the grass to the dirt, and it's a fast runner, but c'mon. When the offense is so stingy with its run scoring, it puts a lot of pressure on the pitching and defense, and it shows.
Ryan Cook took over for Pomeranz in the sixth with runners on first and second and one out, and got the much-needed strikeout, but allowed Altuve to swipe third base with two outs. And then would throw a wild pitch straight into the ground to allow the run to score to tie the game. And promptly struck out the hitter to keep the score 1-1, but that outing isn't going to make the Cook highlight reel, and he wasn't finished. Coco Crisp made a valiant effort to get the A's back on top, as he homered to give the A's the brief 2-1 lead, but after a Fuld single was erased in a double-play, Cook came back out for the seventh. He hit the first batter he saw, struck out the second, and allowed a single to put runners on first and third. Could Abad keep his scoreless inherited runner streak alive? He struck out the first hitter he saw for two outs, but promptly gave up a single to tie the game at 2. Dan Otero replaced Abad with runners at first and third and two outs, and he gave up a hit. There was minor criticism about Callaspo deflecting the ball, but the truth is even with a good dive, he wasn't getting Altuve at first base anyway. Otero's major credit was ending the inning by striking out Chris Carter with the two men on base.
This game felt over. Down 3-2 to the Astros, it might as well have been 10-2 for all the life the A's had shown in the game, highlighted by the meekest 8th inning 1-2-3 job you'll ever see, giving fans little to no hope. With the Angels' lead in their game, the A's were staring down the barrel of a 2-game deficit heading into Anaheim tomorrow night. I felt sick. 'What-if's" began to swirl, all aimed at the offense. What has happened to our offense? How can we win when our starting pitchers give up zero earned runs and still lose? We needed a miracle.
We would get a miracle, but first, we'd get the bottom of the eighth inning, in which Otero allowed a single and a walk to lead off the inning, which often spells "insurance runs". A sacrifice bunt led to the intentional walk to load the bases with out out, but two strikeouts prevented any damage, from either the Houston bats or the A's fielders. It would have been glorious, had the A's not been down a run, but the key to the whole comeback was keeping the deficit at one.
And then came the ninth inning. And a sure, painful loss turned into pure, unadulterated joy.
Jonny Gomes started the inning with a soft single to put the tying run on base for the A's. Craig Gentry replaced Gomes at first, and a right good thing too, because he was able to straight steal the bag when the hit-and-run went awry. With Callaspo batting, the A's issued a hit-and-run, which was an uncommonly good idea. Fast runner at first, Mr. Molasses at the plate, and say what you want about his speed, but Callaspo almost always makes contact. I loved the call. I can't fault Callaspo for not being able to hit the pitch, and credit Gentry a whole bunch for stealing the base, a call that even held up under the subsequent review. Callaspo moved the runner to third on a tough pitch he fisted to first, bringing up Eric Sogard with the tying run on third. Sogard hit the ball just right. Not too hard, not too soft, but a nice blooper that dropped perfectly, allowing the speedy Gentry to score easily to tie the game.
Coco made a bid for another hit, but the first baseman made a nice play and was able to get the lead runner, but Coco beat the throw back to first. And up came Sam Fuld, much-maligned in the trade for Tommy Milone, but he earned it all today as he blasted a home run to give the A's the 5-3 lead. Pandemonium ensued for A's fans, probably because they forgot we don't have a closer.
I like Eric O'Flaherty so much as a member of the A's bullpen, but I despite the closer choice. There are two, if not three, other pitchers I'd throw before him, and I've said that from day one. He technically got the job done tonight, but it was only sheer luck and great defense that this save wasn't blown, and because this is a happy thread, I'll leave with that. The A's made a boat-load of defensive changes behind O'Flaherty, but none more important than Andy Parrino at shortstop, moving Sogard back to second. Houston singled to open the inning just for added stress, and believe it or not, Donaldson to Sogard to Vogt nabbed Altuve in a double-play that was also upheld by replay. But just barely. And it was a damn good thing too, since Chris Carter launched yet another home run against A's pitching as the very next batter. Fortunately for the A's, with a two-run lead and clear bases, it meant the same as a walk or a single; the tying run would come to the plate as the next batter. Fowler took his best shot at getting on base, but Parrino made a leaping grab to secure the out, and the win for the A's.
I don't have to tell you how big this win was. The A's keep their 1-game deficit, heading into a season-defining series against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Southern California starting tomorrow night. The A's will throw Gray, Lester, Kazmir and Samardzija against their Division rivals in what will likely be the battle for first place and the Division crown. Let's hope that tonight's late-inning comeback can spark all cylinders against our rivals. We'll see you back here tomorrow night! LET'S GO OAK-LAND!