There were plenty of ingredients for this game to turn into another heartbreaking loss in front of a sold out Coliseum, but the Athletics held it together defensively where the offense could not come through, the A's defeating the Philadelphia Phillies 3-1. Did the Athletics leave the bases loaded in the late innings? Twice! Did a middle-inning reliever give up a leadoff double in a tight game? Absolutely! But they shut the Phillies down and got that win.
In 2013, during the extremely steady year where the A's had winning months every month, it felt like as long as any one of the pitching, offense, or defense was working, they could pull out a win. For the last couple of months, it's been the reverse. Everything has to work, or it all falls apart, because nothing was going great. Tonight was a return to that 2013 form. The offense managed to string together three runs in the second inning, but ultimately left nine runners aboard. Jon Lester pitched great, but it felt like the game could unravel as quickly as it had over-and-over in the last two weeks. Nevertheless, the defense pulled off some slick fielding all night, and Josh Donaldson showed off just where he gets all that credit with his glove.
Jon Lester records 18th consecutive Quality Start
The first inning was Jon Lester's shakiest. After taking 10 pitches to strike out Ben Revere, Lester walked Carlos Ruiz and allowed a single to Chase Utley. Lester proceeded to bear down and strike out Ryan Howard and Marlon Byrd. It was more and less easy from him for the rest of the night, he struck out seven and walked only one more after that. His only major mistake was a solo home run Ryan Howard hit to straightaway center. With his seven-inning 114-pitch one-run effort, Lester completed his 18th consecutive Quality Start.
It looked like the Athletics were going to let yet another rookie pitcher become the second coming of Cy Young after an 8-pitch first-inning. In the second, however, the Athletics put together a string of impressive at bats. Adam Dunn slapped a single that deflected off the pitcher David Buchanan. Brandon Moss flew out to deep right, but Stephen Vogt worked a walk. Jed Lowrie struck out, and then the two-out hit parade began.
Derek Norris singled to right and Adam Dunn slowed down heading into third with Mike Gallego's stop sign up. However, Dunn kept paying attention to Gags, who began waving his windmill as soon as Byrd bobbled the ball and Dunn scored easily when Byrd threw the ball into third.
Eric Sogard then singled on a ground ball down the line past a diving Ruiz, scoring Vogt from third. Finally, Coco Crisp singled on a slowly hit ball up the middle that Chase Utley could only kick into left field. Sam Fuld struck out to end the second inning with the A's leading 3-0.
Leaving them loaded twice
That tightness in your chest? That was the A's leaving the bases loaded twice. In the first instance, Jed Lowrie led off the bottom of the seventh with a triple. Derek Norris struck out. Eric Sogard attempted a safety squeeze, but Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco fielded it on one hop, Jed Lowrie did not get a great jump, and he was out at the plate, putting Eric Sogard at first base. Coco Crisp singled, and then Sam Fuld walked against Antonio Bastardo. Ryne Sandberg called on Justin De Fratus to face Josh Donaldson, and he popped out to short on the first pitch.
In the second instance, Brandon Moss and Stephen Vogt each worked one-out walks against Jake Diekman. After Jed Lowrie struck out swinging, Derek Norris grounded on a tapper to the pitcher, but Diekman took his time throwing over and Norris beat the throw to load them up. Jonny Gomes pinch hit for Eric Sogard. He was given a gift of a ball two by home plate umpire Chris Conroy on a down-and-in pitch, but called out on a pitch that was even more in and just as down. The 35,067 in attendance were displeased, either with the call or with Gomes for leaving his bat on his shoulder.
An interesting note in that eighth inning, Bob Melvin elected to allow Adam Dunn, Brandon Moss, and Stephen Vogt to face the left-handed Diekman, with Nate Freiman, Alberto Callaspo, and Jonny Gomes available. It should be interesting to see how that plays out against left-handed pitching for the rest of the year.
The first good play was a 3-6-3 double play turned by Vogt and Lowrie to record the first two outs of the top of the second. Vogt actually nearly got in the way of Jon Lester, who was appropriately covering on the play, but disaster was averted.
Luke Gregerson entered the game in the eighth inning, and I pause here to note that Gregerson has yet to blow a two-run lead this year. If you believe that leverage affects how relief pitchers perform, I think we have Gregerson's breaking point. Coming into tonight, he has come into two-run leads 10 times, and finishes all of those appearances without conceding a run, even when handed inherited runners.
Nevertheless, Luke Gregerson gave up a leadoff double, and you began to go "Oh no, here we go again." Ben Revere moved Galvis to third on his groundout to second base. However, Carlos Ruiz slammed a pitch off home plate to Josh Donaldson, who came home to Derek Norris. One would expect, given how things have gone with Norris over the last two weeks, that that play would result in the ball careening into the backstop and the tying run moving into scoring position. Fortunately, I must disappoint your expectations. Norris applied the tag for the second out. Chase Utley grounded out to Eric Sogard to end the top of the eighth.
Finally, Sean Doolittle came on in the ninth hoping to bounce back from his terrible night on Wednesday. With one out, Josh Donaldson made a fantastic sliding backhanded grab on the third base line and fired a strike across the diamond to record the out on a good stretch to beat Marlon Byrd by two steps.
Super play from Donaldson and Vogt. pic.twitter.com/wDXqKcBm98— Jeremy F. Koo (@jfkooAN) September 20, 2014
Doolittle recorded the final out by getting Grady Sizemore to fly out to Brandon Moss in left field foul territory to preserve the 3-1 victory.
The A's magic number falls to nine and they move back into the first Wild Card position, with the Kansas City Royals losing to the Detroit Tigers but the Seattle Mariners beating the Houston Astros. Tomorrow's game comes your way at 1:05 pm Pacific Time, with Drew Pomeranz facing Jerome Williams.