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Game #157: A's Waste 50 K's of Gray

Despite striking out 12 Angels' batters in his seven innings of work, Sonny Gray continues his season-long struggle with run support, falling as the hard-luck loser behind a solo home run and a "we are smrter than you" play by the Angels. Although the A's magic number shrank to 3 due to Seattle's will to lose being even stronger than the A's, the 2-0 loss puts the A's into a tie with the Royals, with Kansas City holding the tiebreaker, and the home field advantage in the Wild Card.

Jason O. Watson

Tonight was one of those games that in a normal 162-game season, you'd be tempted to shrug off as, "Well, we won the first, had some hard luck today, and we'll bounce back and win the series tomorrow." Unfortunately, since the A's have backed themselves into the proverbial corner for this week-long microcosm of the season, as long as the Royals won, the A's had to win, and they failed tonight in pretty spectacular ways. Granted, Seattle is doing its best to distance itself from the two Wild Card leaders, but as the A's have already been soundly beaten in the Division, it sure would be nice to at least have one playoff game at home, in front of our crowd. The A's magic number to secure a playoff spot is three, which means if they win just 3 of 5, they go, but they now need help to secure the top Wild Card spot. It's all easier said than done, and the last five games remain interesting, if not exquisitely painful.

I think what is even more irritating than wasting a gem by Gray is the fact that the A's offense made Wade LeBlanc look good. I wasn't kidding about other teams starting any left-handed pitcher, even an average one, against the A's for the sure win, and the A's proved it again today. They are also afraid of bases-loaded situations, but that's an entirely different topic.

All you need to know about the game is that the A's recorded seven hits and three walks, and couldn't push a single run across the plate. They went down in the second inning and could never come back, forcing Sonny Gray to pitch a meaningless five additional innings for the loss.

As good as Geovany Soto is behind the plate, and he is indeed much, much better than Norris, showcased by throwing out Angels' runners all night, he probably hurt the A's in the game today. Even as I stress that the Angels would likely have run wild on Norris and had far more chances to score, Soto made a costly error in the second to put a runner at third, the wrong snap decision to allow the run to score, and hit into two key double-plays that ended two different A's rallies.

Erick Aybar, in all his pure annoyance, singed off Gray to open the second inning and on a delayed steal, where Soto was throwing the ball back in to the pitcher, stole second, and took third when Soto threw the ball into the outfield, doing his best Derek Norris impression. Gray would get the strikeout for the first out and would walk Navarro to put runners on first and third. Gray struck out his second batter of the inning as Navarro took off for second base. Instead of holding the ball to prevent the run from third scoring, Soto made the call to trade an out for a run and threw the ball to second, catching Navarro in the rundown, but not before the run scored. It's the August/September Oakland Athletics. Never trade an out for a run. And especially not when your pitcher du jour is a strikeout machine; I'd trade runners at second and third for a two-out at-bat by Gordon Beckham. Of course, the joke is on me, since Beckham is the only Angels' batter to touch Gray in tonight's game; he hit a no-doubt home run off Gray to double the lead in the sixth.

It's not that the A's didn't have chances to score. Soto helped them right out of the third and seventh innings, and Sam Fuld was picked off first base to kill the rally in the fourth, but the A's best chance to score was in the fifth inning as after a Reddick double, moved to third by Soto's fly ball contact, a two-out gorgeous bunt by Eric Sogard was ruined by an admittedly great play by Howie Kendrick to get Sogard at first to save the run, helped by Sogard inexplicably sliding into first base. For a team that walks such a firm line of irrefutable baseball statistics, I can't understand how they allow players to slide into first. Not only does it get you to the bag slower, but it also increases injury risk. Do a simple Google search, Sogard. Bad form. The very next pitch after that rally died was the fateful home run.

The sixth inning saw Fuld single with one out to pick up the massively struggling Coco Crisp, who looked awful (yet no more so than Vogt and Lowrie in this one). Donaldson had a tough at-bat; one that looked like he was trying too hard to do it all by himself, and after Moss was hit by a pitch to put two on, Vogt had one of his worst at-bats all year, striking out at a pitch that may have gone over the backstop screen had it been allowed to continue its flight.

The A's real teAse was in the eighth inning, as Sogard singled to open the inning and with two outs, both Donaldson and Moss walked. Moss ran the count to 3-0 before a pitch was called a strike (it wasn't), and I was happy about the miss call, because a 3-1 count on Moss was my preference to an at-bat for Vogt after the last one. Moss took a hack on 3-1, but swung and missed. And Vogt left the bases loaded, causing us to mutter sadly under our breaths, IDBISV.

Lost in all of this mess was the absolutely fantastic day by Josh Reddick, who went 3-4 and Eric Sogard, who had two hits of his own. They were the entirely of the A's offense in this one, as is far too common lately. Oh, should the A's put it all together one of these days.

The A's will try for the series win, and to keep pace with the Royals, tomorrow afternoon. I'll be back here at 12:35 with all of your action as we count down the last five games of the season. Can you stand it?! What's going to happen?! Can the A's play a playoff game in 2014? You're about to find out.