The Oakland Athletics continue to execute, beating the Detroit Tigers 5-3 to win the seventh contest of their last 10 and the first game of this three-game set at Comerica Park. Kendall Graveman fell behind 3-0 after he could not escape the fourth inning unscathed, but thanks to some curious defensive decisions by the Tigers and Ben Zobrist's sixth career grand slam, Graveman gets the win.
Pitchers duel through three
Billy Burns led things off by trying to surprise Detroit with a two-strike bunt, except it went foul for strike three. Alfredo Simon walked the next two batters before Billy Butler grounded out and Josh Reddick flew out to deep right to end the inning. Simon then needed 17 pitches to strike out the side in the second, but just 10 more for a 1-2-3 third.
Kendall Graveman must have attached magnets to his baseballs and Brett Lawrie's glove, because Lawrie recorded seven assists in the first three innings. Two of those assists came when the Tigers played for one run in the third. First James McCann and his 99 wRC+ hit a sacrifice bunt to Lawrie to advance two runners to second and third. Then the Tigers botched a safety squeeze bunt put down by Anthony Gose when Tyler Collins got caught in a rundown and was putout 1-5-2.
Simon survives his own wildness
In the fourth, Simon looked to be well on his way to continuing his warpath against the A's, striking out Stephen Vogt and getting Billy Butler to fly out to left. But then it just fell apart. Reddick, Lawrie, and Muncy all walked to load the bases, and Marcus Semien was up. Semien put a charge in his fly ball to right, but J.D. Martinez made a good catch 371 feet from home plate to save Simon from his 34-pitch fourth inning.
Kendall Graveman also got through the fifth and sixth innings without too much trouble, allowing three hits. Marcus Semien made a strong throw from the shortstop position to throw out the speedy Anthony Gose to end the sixth inning still trailing 3-0.
Kendall Graveman's unfortunate 4th
Every starting pitcher will have those innings where he comes up just a bit short, and it all starts to unravel. Only the most elite pitchers seem to avoid them with any regularity, but good pitchers can come out of those innings and continue to provide quality for their team. At the start of the year, Graveman was neither great nor good. Now that he's back, I think he's back to "good."
Here's a thought. Would you rather have Kendall Graveman or Drew Pomeranz in the rotation right now? That's the decision Bob Melvin faces as Pomeranz gets set to return to the A's after getting a cortisone shot for his AC joint. I feel like I'm getting more good innings and good overall starts from Graveman right now than I have been from Drew Pomeranz. But that's just this humble recapper's opinion.
Graveman allowed Miguel Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes to lead off the fourth with consecutive singles. However, both Ian Kinsler and J.D. Maritinez flew out to left to take Graveman to the brink of escaping without any damage.
You can give up singles to Cabrera and Cespedes. Those are "could have been worse" outcomes. The big mistake was walking rookie designated hitter Tyler Collins on five pitches to load the bases. Collins, through 51 plate appearances, had just 12 career base hits, and only two for extra bases.
Graveman still got himself one strike away from pulling out of their with another zero, getting Nick Castellanos to 0-2. Trying to get Castellanos to chase, however, Graveman threw a cutter in the dirt that Stephen Vogt could not handle, and everyone moved up 90 feet. On 3-2, Castellanos reached out and poked this sinker off the end of his bat into right field to score two more:
Graveman then allowed a 2-2 double that had the Tigers threatening to blow the game wide open. Anthony Gose could not get the ball past Eric Sogard, however, and the A's trailed 3-0 after four.
Fielders choose badly
Simon recovered from hitting 79 pitches through four by throwing an eight-pitch fifth and nine-pitch sixth. The A's got their first base hit of the game thanks to a one-out single from Billy Burns in the fifth, but he was quickly erased on a 3-6-3 double play. I was surprised to see Simon come out for the seventh after 96 pitches, however, given his earlier troubles with command.
In the seventh, Brett Lawrie led off with a single. He advanced to second on a wild pitch that required absolutely no hesitation on Lawrie's part, it was a heads up decision to run. With one out, Marcus Semien grounded towards shortstop Jose Iglesias, who made a very good ranging play. Brett Lawrie had by that point made the unfortunate decision to run to third. Lawrie knew he was supposed to be out, but Iglesias made a so-so throw to third base that Nick Castellanos failed to catch, and everybody was safe on the fielder's choice.
Eric Sogard came up and with the hit-and-run on, Sogard grounded a sharp 1-1 sinker to Ian Kinsler. Here is where Eric Sogard is when Kinsler fields the ball:
Here is Brett Lawrie, giving the faintest notions of bluffing towards home and definitely not running on contact, when Kinsler fields the ball:
Here is Jose Iglesias pointing Ian Kinsler towards first base, indicating he should throw the ball in that direction:
Ian Kinsler threw home.
It was puzzling. "It was a reaction play," Kinsler said to Catherine Slonksnis of Bless You Boys, "Complete reaction play. I had to pick up a tough hop and turn towards the outfield, and my first look was to second base to see if I could get an out there, and I couldn't. And as I was continuing to move to throw the ball to first I saw him take three hard steps I just reacted to the play."
So instead of two on and two outs, the bases were loaded with one out. Brad Ausmus stuck with his starter for one more batter, but Burns singled up the middle to score one and earn his fifth consecutive multi-hit game.
Ben Zobrist exhumes Graveman's start with grand slam
So now with the score 3-1, the bases loaded and the game on the line, Ausmus turned to his bullpen. You can forgive managers for not turning to their closers in the seventh inning, I suppose. Ausmus instead went with his ground ball specialist, Angel Nesbitt, to prevent further damage. He failed in the worst way:
That is a frozen rope grand slam to the first row of the Comerica Park bleachers to put the A's ahead 5-3. It was hit so hard, the child that caught the ball in his glove was momentarily excited before realizing he had caught the grand slam that caused his team to fall behind:
Shut down bullpen
Evan Scribner relieved Kendall Graveman in what was an astute move by Bob Melvin to bring Scribner in to face Detroit's best: Jose Iglesias, Miguel Cabrera, and Yoenis Cespedes. Scribner had such an easy time of it, including making Cabrera look completely foolish on his way to a three-pitch strikeout, that he went back out for a second inning to retire Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez, and Tyler Collins in order.
Tyler Clippard came in for the save, and rather than give us another Balfourian performance, he retired Nick Castellanos on a grounder to shortstop Andy Parrino, struck out James McCann on a foul tip, and struck out Anthony Gose with a swing-and-a-miss to wrap up the first game of this series. It was Clippard's eighth save of 2015.
The Athletics will try to win their third game in a row as well as clinch back-to-back series wins. Sonny Gray takes the hill Wednesday against Detroit's Anibal Sanchez. But the final in the first game of this three series is the Athletics 5, the Tigers 3.