Who wants a cookie? Eric Sogard was in a baking mood today as he twice extended innings with balls-in-play and had a two-run double to put the game out of the Angels' reach. As a whole, the A's did not rely on the long ball today, instead getting it done with a mix of singles and doubles. So without further ado:
Early Errors go Oakland's Way
After going down quietly 1-2-3 in the first, Ben Zobrist led off the second with a single. Zobrist was filling in as the DH today as Billy Butler got the day off. After Stephen Vogt, who is most obviously slumping now, softly lined out Brett Lawrie reached base on an error by Angels second basebman Johnny Giavotella. With a man on first and second Max Muncy then hit a grounder to third that should have been a double play. Instead, Erick Aybar bobbled the transfer at second allowing Muncy to reach first safely.
Now with Zobrist at third and two outs Sogard came to plate looking to take advantage of Anaheim's errors. On the 1-0 pitch Sogard bunted softly perhaps six feet up the third base line with Zobrist charging in. Angels catcher Chris Iannetta lept out of his crouch to pounce on the ball. He reached down with his barehand to pick it up, but as he turned to throw to first his hand was empty; the ball was still resting softly on the infield grass. Meanwhile, Zobrist had hit the breaks halfway down the line, but with Iannetta's misplay Zobrist charged home again. What happened next was the baseball version of hopscotch. As Iannetta picked up the ball he fell sideways to attempt a tag on Zobrist, but Zobrist gave a little sideways spring over Iannetta's glove to touch home safely. For once the blunder bug went in the A's favor as they took a 1-0 lead off of three Angels errors in the inning.
In the top of the third the A's again led off with a single, this time of the infield variety by Billy Burns, who is making a habit these day of (1) getting on base and (2) stealing bases. So with Semien at the plate Burns stole his 12th base of the year and just like that the A's had a man in scoring position. Semien badly chased a breaking ball for the first out, however, for his second of three strikeouts on the day. Reddick then hit a shallow pop up to short left-center that Aybar made a play on, but he must have immediately lost the ball in the sun because as Aybar put his glove up the ball landed a good 20 feet away. He must have been trying to deke out Burns at second hoping Burns would hold before perhaps only reaching third, but Burns read Aybar the whole way and was streaking home before anyone came close to fielding the ball. Here is a photo of Aybar making an Oscar bid for best actor:
Sonny Being Sonny
Going into the bottom of the fourth inning Sonny Gray had been staked an early 2-0 lead and the way he was pitching it looked like it would be all he would need for the win. Sonny came into the game with an AL best 1.74 ERA, but he was second to Garrit Cole for MLB best. Never one to settle for second-place, Sonny proceeded to carve up the Angels like an Italian butcher with a slab of prosciutto.
The first three innings were perfect: 9 up, 9 down with three Ks. Unfortunately, but also all too predictably, a series of Oakland mistakes allowed the Angels to score. In the fourth Semien booted an Aybar grounder for his 21st error on the season, also the 60th for the A's. Then Aybar reached third base, advancing to second on a wild pitch and third base on a pass ball. Albert Pujols then singled Aybar home to give the Angels their first run of the day. Sonny would allow another single, but escape the inning without further damage still up 2-1.
Never one to be phased, Sonny would easily recover. He struck out the side in the fifth before pitching out of another jam in the sixth. His seventh was a beauty, needing only 8 pitches to get three outs. Sonny would get two more Ks in the eighth before Bob Melvin pulled him for Fernando Rodriguez. Sonny's final line: 7.2 IP, 5 hits, zero walks, 9 strikeouts, zero earned. The only run being unearned due to the error/pass ball. Sonny's ERA now stands at 1.60, best in the majors.
Oakland Piles on the Runs
As Sonny dominated the middle innings, the Oakland offense gave him plenty of cushion. Zobrist led off the sixth with a double. Anaheim starter Matt Shoemaker would retire the next two A's batters, but then give up a two-out double to Max Muncy, who would be the last batter he would face. Now with the A's up 3-1, Jose Alvarez came in to create the left-on-left match-up against Sogard. Batting .200 in 39 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers this season, Sogard has been appropriately platooned, but with Zobrist as the DH today manager Bob Melvin did not have accessible pitch hitting options for a second baseman. Thus, with a man on second and two out, Sogard took his at bat against a left-handed pitcher and did something he has done only seven other times this season; he got a hit off a lefty. With a single up the middle, Sogard scored Muncy from second to give the A's a 4-1 lead.
What we didn't now then, but what we do know now, is that after Sogard's single the A's were smack dab in the middle of a 2-out rally. Sam Fuld followed with a single, followed by a Burns single, scoring Sogard. Jose was pulled without retiring a batter. He was replaced by Cam Bedrosian who would end the inning by striking out Semien with yet another poor plate appearance.
With a 5-1 lead, the A's took further advantage of the Angels bullpen in the seventh. Reddick led off with a single before Zobrist hit a hard liner off the glove of Angels third baseman Kyle Kubitza. As the ball rolled into foul territory Reddick hustled to third with Zobrist advancing to second. First base was open, so Mike Scioscia decided to intentionally walk Vogt to give Lawrie a based loaded at bat with zero out. With the infield playing in Lawrie hit a grounder to Aybar, but he would bobble the ball just long enough for Reddick to beat the throw home, scoring another run. Then after a Muncy strikeout, Sogard would exhibit some of that Cookie Monster power, this time hitting a two-run double off of another left-handed pitcher Cesar Ramos to put the A's up 8-1. The A's would load the bases again in the inning for Semien, but he again failed to deliver, weakly popping out to end the threat.
Eight is enough, as they say, even though Tyler Clippard tried his darndest to make this a close game in the ninth. It just ain't an A's game without a sweat in the ninth. The inning included Semien's second error of the game, although the misplay was partly caused by a poor throw from Tyler. No matter though as Tyler would strike out Kubitza with the bases loaded to end the game. Luckily, Scioscia pulled every Angel star player from the game back in the eighth inning, but the final frame could have been much uglier.
The A's now pile into a bus for the trip down to San Diego having outscored the Angels by five runs, but losing two of three in the weekend series. Regardless of the record, with the best rotation in the AL it's hard to count out the A's in a surprisingly weak AL West.