Home can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. For some, home is sitting in a recliner in front of a fire, maybe reading a novel or doing a crossword puzzle, maybe some nice soft music playing for ambiance. For others, home is hiding out in a dark room, with video games, television, and not acknowledging that there is an outside world unless absolutely necessary. Home means something different to just about everyone, and while no one has an incorrect personal view of what "Home" means to them, those definitions can vary wildly, and can evoke a wide range of emotions.
For the A’s, this season, home has meant frustration and defeat. Apart from Sonny Gray’s victory in his debut, in which the A’s were just barely victorious by a score of 2-1, home baseball games have been a source of exasperation for both the team and fans alike. The offense has been highly ineffective, the starters would consistently pitch strongly but would also be forced to work significantly harder due to control issues and defensive miscues, mental errors would cost the A’s precious runs, and the A’s would take the loss in a large number of one run games. While the bullpen has been, by and large, extremely effective, it has also been overworked, leading to some late game runs that put close games out of reach. Coming into today’s game, the A’s had a record of 1-7 in front of the Oakland faithful, all the while sharing a parking lot with a team that lost only two home games in their entire season en route to the playoffs.
They say "Home is where the heart is," and it with the always passionate fans in right field, the sea of yellow jerseys that filled the coliseum, and the high levels of enthusiasm from the game’s start to finish, today looked as if the A’s really truly felt like they were playing a home game for the first time all season and looked as though they were playing with heart. Even after the Royals took an early lead after a bloop, stolen base, and RBI single on a good low and away pitch from Sonny Gray, the usual feelings of dread and foreboding were locked outside the front door.
Sonny Gray pitched admirably without his best stuff on the mound. Gray was a bit erratic, and the contact-heavy Royals lineup forced Gray to throw a lot of pitches, leading many to keep a close eye on his pitch count since the very first inning. The defense behind Gray, particularly the defense of Jed Lowrie and Josh Phegley, left a lot to be desired, allowing the never-say-die Royals offense to chip away at Gray with Texas-Leaguers, bloop hits, and an abundance of foul balls. Despite the shaky defense, and despite Gray falling behind a large number of the batters he faced, Gray still managed to pitch six innings with six strikeouts, only one walk, and two runs, all the while throwing upwards of 110 pitches. Sonny looked as though he was at home on the mound, even if he had some family distractions around him that took away from his overall performance.
The bullpen continued to demonstrate why the Oakland fanbase should now feel confidence after the starting pitcher has been removed, as Axford and Doolittle combined to pitch a highly effective seventh and eighth innings. Madson, perhaps assuming the unofficial closer position, made the ninth inning a bit interesting when he clearly lacked control and walked the leadoff batter and allowed the next man he faced to reach base on a tough error on Lowrie. Ultimately, after a run scores to bring the game to 5-3, Madson managed to close the door and shut the house down for the night.
On the offensive side, this family finally started to feel a little more like a cohesive unit. The A’s offense put the heat on the Royals’ pitching staff early, with Burns and Semien doing their chores via getting on base in the top of the first to set the table for Josh Reddick, who stroked a beautiful home run into the right field seats. Vogt, arguably the head of the A’s household, was removed from his usual spot behind the plate and temporarily inserted into a DH role, but still didn’t miss a beat as he, too, would crush a home run in the later innings to right-center field.
It could be argued that Oakland left a few too many men on base over the course of the game, as the team was able to load up the bases on multiple occasions and had naught but a sacrifice fly from Marcus Semien to show for it. However, on the flip side, the reason so many runners were left stranded was in large part due to previously struggling players like Yonder Alonso finally showing signs of life at the plate and the A’s, as a team, drawing more walks (4) than strikeouts (3). This offense is made up of a lot of new players trying hard, perhaps too hard, to impress the family that resides within the home they moved into, and as they get settled, look for more runners to get driven in.
To date, the A’s have looked quite homely in front of the home crowds, but today marked the first day where it finally felt like the front gates to the A’s manor were thrust open and the team was allowed inside, and it showed. Look for the A’s continue to get fully moved in and settled tomorrow.