There's a scene in Major League where the veteran pitcher Eddie Harris is imparting pitching wisdom on the rookie flamethrower, eliciting the gem of, "I haven't got an arm like yours; I have to put anything on it I can find." The idea of a crafty veteran speaks more to pitching experience long after the raw talent has either faded with age or figured out by the league's hitters, and today was an interesting object lesson of that. Sonny Gray is a young talent with great stuff. And he'll have plenty of success when his pitches are working. But what happens when he doesn't have it? When he throws a pitch and looks around and he, the fans, his team, the crowd, and the other hitters know he's got nothing.
Because that was today. Gray had literally no pitches working, and struggled from the very beginning of the game, generating multiple Tampa Bay runners all over the bases in every inning. He left two on in the first inning, allowed a run on two hits and two ground outs in the second to give the Rays the 1-0 lead, and was equally frustrated in the third. He walked the lead-off hitter on five pitches, the second hitter on four and stood on the mound for a minute, looking around, with absolutely no control of his pitches and no choice but to keep pitching. After recording a strikeout, he walked the bases loaded, but fought hard enough to get the second out at home and the third in the air for a fly out. And when I say "fought", I mean it. Sonny Gray fought to get every out he did today, since he wasn't helped by his pitches, his luck, or even his teammates. An unlucky infield base hit started the fourth inning for Gray, followed by a non-unlucky, just terribly-pitched home run to give the Rays a 3-0 lead. And after a two-out double, Coco Crisp just absolutely dropped a ball in center field to put the A's down 4-0, which, not surprisingly, was before they ever recorded their first hit. Meanwhile, the Rays collected their ninth (!!) hit off Gray to start the fifth inning, and once again, Gray was back in the stretch and on the ropes. He would have recorded the first out on a play to second base, but Sogard let the ball go right through him to put runners on first and third with no one out for the Rays.
Gray made one last attempt to stop the bleeding by striking out Molina for the first out, but the trickle became a gush as he hit (or may have "hit") Kiermaier to load the bases, and then gave up the single to break it open, 6-0. Gray left the game with 90 pitches, only 40 of them strikes, allowing 10 hits and 6 earned runs. Suffice to say, it was not his best start. But let's be perfectly honest; he could have pitched a complete game and still could have lost this one, shades of his last start thanks to the A's decrepit offense.
I attended Sunday's game in person. The A's went down 4-0 in Kasmir's bad inning, and a perfect game was pitched against them for five innings. This felt a whole lot like this one. The A's offense is really struggling, even in the two games that won this series. The starting pitching giving up more than two runs has seemed insurmountable for our offense, and today was no exception. It's not just that the offense is particularly bad right now, and they are, but they aren't doing anything to mix it up either. How many players are going to be stacked on the right side of the infield before Moss or Vogt will bunt? It doesn't have to be a perfect bunt. It doesn't have to be a good bunt. It just needs to be a) hit and b) fair. I'm guessing it might help Moss' batting average if the opposition returned to their regularly scheduled positions against him, but why would they? He refuses to even try to beat the shift. Four chances at a bunt can't be worse than a ground-out to short, a strikeout, and a fly out.
And fair or not, when one pitcher is great and the other is piloting the struggle bus, you can guess which one is going to get the close calls. Yes, Donaldson, the Rays walked on the same pitches that you were called out on, but taking two called third strikes to end your first two at-bats, the second one with the only base-runner of the game through four innings on base isn't helping the cause.
The A's offense managed nothing but a single by Coco Crisp and a home run by Eric Sogard off Jeremy Hellickson. Two hits. Zero walks. Let that sink in. The A's put on a teAse in the ninth, per usual, with a two out single by Donaldson, a walk by Moss and a Reddick double to plate two.
Make no mistake, the A's won this series only because their bullpen is lights-out, and like the two series before, only a few plays were the difference in being swept. It would be great to get some offense back as the A's welcome in the Twins for a four game set, starting tomorrow night. Meanwhile, we've been reduced to rooting hard for the Dodgers in their game tonight. We'll see you back here tomorrow with all the action!