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Game #161: Baseball is Poetry

A's win 9-8 in a wild game, eliminating the Mariners from the playoffs

"What weeping face is that looking from the window?

Why does it stream those sorrowful tears?

Is it for some burial place, vast and dry?

Is it to wet the soil of graves?"

- Walt Whitman, "What Weeping Face"

In less than a day there won’t be any green-collar baseball for an eternity and a half. This season hasn’t been one wrought with good memories or good baseball, filled more by frustration than elation, and in all honesty, putting this season to rest and embracing a long offseason and a fresh start next year is probably what this team needs most. But before the 2016 A’s are buried and left to slowly rot and decay away, becoming worm food for unfun baseball facts, they got to play a meaningful game in October against the Mariners and spoil their division rivals’ playoff hopes.

The 2016 A’s saving grace has been the emergence of the first wave of youth that will be taking over the roster over next season. Jharel Cotton got the call to the show a bit later than many of his other peers on the roster (primarily due to the fact that he spent more than half of the year in the Dodgers’ organization) but has been making the strongest case of all the pitchers for a spot in the rotation next year. Looking to build on his first four starts in which he never allowed more than one earned run, Cotton would have his strikeout pitch working in his final game. His first batter faced, Norichika Aoki, spun around in a full circle before falling down while striking out to set the tone for the evening, and two batters later Cano made three consecutive incredibly Josh Hamilton-like swings at biting curveballs and sliders in the dirt to strike out as well. The Mariners would get to Cotton in the second inning, however, hitting three straight singles to put a run on the board and give their team the lead. Cotton would not back down, and would have gotten out of the inning with no further trouble had Joey Wendle fielded a potential double play ground ball cleanly, but the error would allow for an unearned run to cross the plate in the inning as well, doubling the Mariners’ lead, 2-0.

To say this has been a bad week (or season) for the A’s offense is an understatement, and for the first few innings it appeared to be a lot more of the same badness. But, in today’s game, the offense had multiple contributors up and down the lineup. Three straight singles for the A’s to begin the third would net the offense a run much like the Mariners’ had in the previous inning, but unlike the Mariners, the A’s were able to capitalize in a big way vis-à-vis doubles from Khris Davis and Yonder Alonso, driving in three total runs and pushing the total to four for the inning. By the time the final out was recorded the A’s were ahead 4-2. Next inning, Semien would collect his third hit of the game by smacking a double to right field, and Ryon Healy would single up the middle two batters later to score him.

The Mariners would not be put away so easily, a team that needed to win in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. Cotton continued to be his dominant self through four innings, totaling seven strikeouts, but by the fifth inning, already above his designated pitch count or rapidly approaching it, he would simply get beat by the powerful middle of the order the Mariners’ possess. Cano would end Cotton’s night, and streak of starting his career with games of at least five innings pitched and one earned run or less, with a deep two run home run to center field that would draw the Mariners ever closer, 5-4.

Continuing the game’s pattern of offenses’ trading blows (at least one team scored in innings two through eight), Brett Eibner and Joey Wendle would get back to back hits to push a run across the plate in the sixth, and Khris Davis hit his 42nd home run of the season to center field to expand the lead further to 7-4. Meanwhile, Liam Hendriks would do some tightrope walking to hold the Mariners at bay in relief of Cotton.

In the bottom of the seventh, Sean Doolittle came in to face the long string of lefties that the Mariners have at the top of the order, and promptly gave up a leadoff double to Aoki, who would come around to score on a Cano single. With the powerful righty Nelson Cruz following Cano representing the tying run, the formerly lights-out lefty fell behind with two relatively non-competitive balls and, in an instant, gave up a game tying home run that shot out of the park in an extreme hurry and got the home crowd deafeningly loud and electric. Doolittle would get the final two outs of the inning, but the damage was already done with the scored knotted up at seven.

Watching an early lead dwindle to nothing is an unfortunately all-too-familiar notion, and the offense failing to respond after a big inning from their opponents is usually the culprit. Nine pitches into the eighth inning, courtesy of Steve Cishek, the A’s had two outs and an 0-2 count against Wendle. Wendle, despite batting at the bottom of the order, has been a spark plug for the offense since he was first called up, bucking most all expectations fans had for him, and slapped the 0-2 pitch back up the middle for a two out single. Cishek would then, inexplicably, attempt a pickoff throw to first to catch Wendle napping, but the throw was well wide and suddenly Wendle was standing on third. The pickoff error proved to be crucial, as Semien continued to have a great night at the plate by hitting a vital ground rule double to left center field, plating Wendle and re-taking the lead for the A’s, 8-7.

For the dramatics to end there wouldn’t do this game justice. Ryan Dull relieved Doolittle in the eighth and, like Cishek the half inning prior, got two quick outs and got the third batter down to two strikes, but then gave up a ground ball double down the left field line. After Aoki would walk after a long at bat, Ben Gamel hit a single to right field and, just like that, the game was tied again. The Mariners would load the bases as the inning continued, but Dull escaped the inning with the score still tied by striking out Nelson Cruz.

A quick and quiet top of the ninth paved the way for a Ryan Madson bottom of the ninth, who began the inning with a four pitch walk. A single and hit batsman would load up the bases for the Mariners, albeit with two outs, but Madson was able to navigate out of trouble and get the game into the tenth. With the Mariners’ closer, Edwin Diaz, entering his third inning of work, Bruce Maxwell was able to get the A’s offense started yet again with an opposite field double, and Joey Wendle, already with three hits on the day and having started the eighth inning rally for the A’s, would get the big hit yet again by pulling a double to right center field. 9-8, A’s.

Despite his rocky ninth, Madson re-entered the game in the tenth and didn’t hesitate to allow a single to the Mariners’ hero of the eighth inning, Ben Gamel, and then follow that with a wild pitch to move Gamel to second uncontested, with Cano, Cruz, and Seager set to bat. Madson retired Cano with an unproductive out, but nearly surrendered another game tying hit to Cruz, only to be saved via the ball deflecting off of his leg and bouncing to Alonso, who tagged him for the second out of the inning while Gamel moved up to third base. Finally, four hours to the minute after the game started, Kyle Seager would loft a high fly ball to left center field for the final out.

The young A’s continued to claw and scratch and fight in a game that had playoff implications for team they were facing and had nothing to lose. Despite the best efforts of the bullpen, the young A’s eliminated their rivals from playoff contention and won a wild game.

Baseball is beautiful poetry that writes itself. It invokes all ranges of emotions and has a deeper, personal meaning to whomever consumes it. With a long offseason approaching, nights like this one will allow fans all over to dream big for the year to come.

"Yet, yet, ye downcast hours, I know ye also;

Weights of lead, how ye clog and cling at my ankles!

Earth to a chamber of mourning turns – I hear the o’erweening, mocking voice

Matter is conqueror – matter, triumphant only, continues onward.

Despairing cries float ceaselessly toward me,

The call of my nearest lover, putting forth, alarm’d, uncertain,

The Sea I am quickly to sail, come tell me,

Come tell me where I am speeding – tell me my destination.

I understand your anguish, but I cannot help you,

I approach, here, behold – the sad mouth, the look out of the eyes, your mute inquiry

Whither I go from the bed I recline on, come tell me:

Old age, alarm’d, uncertain – A young woman’s voice, appealing to me for comfort;

A young man’s voice, Shall I not escape?"

- Walt Whitman, "Yet, Yet, Ye Downcast Hours"