Last I heard this A's team had turned a corner. The early season struggles looked to be behind us. Billy Beane had finally called up all the right people; the roster is in tip-top shape. The A's, meanwhile, were rolling along, winning 9 of their last 12 games before heading into Boston. Three games later, each lost in all too familiar fashion, this team is right back where they were in April and May. Today's loss in particular exemplifies everything wrong, and right, with this club.
Kendall Graveman Escapes Traffic Jams
Kendall Graveman came into this game having pitched well since his return from AAA, but he got off to a shaky start. After initially striking out Dustin Pedroia he walked Brock Holt. But then on a wild pitch Holt was called out at second on a great recovery throw by Josh Phegley. Good thing, too, because Hanley Ramirez proceeded to double, which would have most likely scored Holt. Kendall then struck out Ortiz to end the inning with no damage done.
In the second Kendall had to yet again work out of a jam. He allowed a one-out single to Pablo Sandoval before striking out Xander Bogaerts. Now with two outs Kendall allowed a double to Sandy Leon down the first base line that exposed Stephen Vogt's poor range at the bag, but fortuitously the hefty Sandoval was unable to score, having to stop at third. Now with two on, two outs, Rusney Castillo came to the plate looking to put Boston on the board. He hit a screamer down the third base line, but Brett Lawrie snagged the ball out of thin air, saving two runs and getting Kendall out of the inning.
Oakland Strikes First, But Fail to Pile On
Lawrie's great play to help Kendall escape the bottom of the second was important because it was a shutdown inning for the A's. The team had previously led off the top of the second with back-to-back singles by Billy Butler and Josh Reddick off of Boston starter Clay Buchholz. After Lawrie moved the runners up 90-feet to second and third, Mark Canha hit a towering fly ball to right that Holt dropped as he crashed into the wall. It was oh so close to being a home run, but it ended up scoring Butler to put the A's up 1-0. Then with Phegley at the plate Clay threw a wild pitch that allowed Reddick to score from third. With the score now 2-0, Phegley walked to bring up Eric Sogard with one out, men at the corners. Sogard initially attempted a safety squeeze, but his bunt went foul. No matter because he went on to single home Canha to give the A's a 3-0 lead.
After a quiet third by both teams, the A's led off the fourth with back-back hits again, this time doubles by Canha and Phegley, giving the A's a 4-0 lead. Sogard then walked in a great 9-pitch at bat to bring Billy Burns to the plate with two men on and nobody out. Burns was riding an 11-game hitting streak coming into today's game, but had two poor ABs up till now. He made up for it, though, hitting an infield single to extend the inning and his hitting streak to 12 games.
The A's were now up 4-0 with the bases loaded, nobody out, and the meat of the Oakland order due up. This was the moment that the team should have blown the game wide open, perhaps scoring at least two or three more runs to thoroughly deflate the Boston team and the notoriously raucous Fenway crowd. Instead, Semien and Vogt both struck out followed by an inning ending ground out by Butler. In the end only one run was scored in an inning that should have seen so much more. At the time, the lost opportunity didn't seem crucial with the team still leading 4-0, but the door was still open for a possible Boston comeback.
Kendall Shines in the Middle Innings
The runs that never were quickly faded into memory, however, as Kendall put on a ground ball clinic in the middle innings of this game. Today his cutter was devastating. Starting with the last out of the bottom of the third, Kendall would go on to retire the next 13 batters in order, including nine ground ball outs. This fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh inning stretch could arguably be the finest innings of Kendall's career thus far. After laboring in the first two innings needing roughly 50 pitches to escape the jams, he worked efficiently and effectively to get the A's through seven innings still up 4-0. The question on everybody's mind was whether or not manager Bob Melvin would leave him in to face Castillo to start the eighth. Decisions decisions . . .
Melvin faced three defensive options entering the bottom of eighth inning with his team up four runs. This is what he did:
1. Melvin decided to replace Semien at short with Andy Parrino, this despite Semien's spot in the order due up first in the top of the ninth.
2. Melvin decided to leave Canha in left field despite Sam Fuld available on the bench and Canha's spot in the lineup due up sixth in the top of the ninth.
3. With Evan Scribner warming up in the bullpen Melvin decided to leave Kendall in the game to start the eighth.
Now Kendall was certainly dealing, but his pitch count was in the high 90's having never thrown more than 100 pitches in a start. Presumably, Kendall was in on a batter-to-batter basis, which Nico points out is simply setting Kendall up to fail. If Kendall gets three outs; great, but one batter gets on base and Kendall is gone. Why not let Kendall have his great outing and allow the bullpen to start the inning fresh without any runners on base? Also, why is Pat Venditte not warming up? Unlike Evan, Pat did not pitch Saturday, so Pat is certainly fresh and capable of facing both right and left handed batters. Plus, earlier in the day Pat gave an ESPN interview for Baseball Tonight. He is gonna be pumped!
No matter, because Kendall stayed in to face the nine batter Castillo. He worked a 2-2 count on Castillo, but strike three was questionably called ball three. It was a tough call, but what happened next would make it the most important moment of the game. Castillo sent the 3-2 pitch into the Green Monster seats to break the shut-out, and more importantly, cause Melvin to pull Kendall in favor of Evan. Final line score for Kendall: 7.0+ IP, 1 ER, 6 SO, 2 BB.
Boston now began pouring singles through the infield like a stream of milk. Pedroia-Holt-Ramirez (off of Parrino's glove) all singled to put the game at 4-2. Evan's day is done having faced three batters and given up three hits and another run. Drew Pomeranz was brought in to face one batter; David Ortiz, who then hit a sac fly on a meatball pitch that should have been a three-run home run, instead it's 4-3. Ultimately irrelevant, though, because the runs would score anyway. Melvin now brought in Tyler Clippard, the fourth pitcher of the inning, to face Mike Napoli, who thankfully struck out.
Now Clippard faced Sandoval with two outs, Ramirez on second, and a one run lead. The save opportunity was still in order here, even after Sandoval singled off the monster to move Ramirez to third. Depending on your view Canha either played the carom off the wall well enough to keep Ramirez at third, or he misplayed the ball because the liner was catchable. In any case, with two outs, if Clippard can get Bogaerts the A's lead would be trimmed, but the team could walk off the field still winning.
All is not well in Oakland town, however, as Bogaerts would double off of the monster to score Ramirez and Mookie Betts, who had come in to pinch-run for Sandoval and previously stolen second base. The save was officially blown now, with the Red Sox up 5-4. But the melt down was not complete. For good measure, pinch-hitter Alejandro De Aza singled to right field scoring Bogaerts on a close throw by Reddick. Castillo, who led off the inning, then singled off of Clippard to put the finishing touches on the horror. Sevens runs scored and five pitchers used. Who is the fifth pitcher you ask? Well, Pat Venditte did pitch the eighth. He came in with the A's down 4-7 and induced Pedrioa into a ground out for the third out.
After a meek 1-2-3 ninth for A's, which included a strikeout for (the now slumping?) Vogt, the Red Sox finished off the sweep, sending the A's home 3-3 on this six game road trip. This will be a long cross-country plane ride home.