In front of a quiet New York crowd, the A's gutted out an 11 inning victory over the New York Yankees. The A's missed chances on offense but took care of business defensively, grinding out a victory against a very good team. That's the mark of a good squad, one that got off to an excellent start to this long road trip.
Surkamp gets the nod
Eric Surkamp has Madison Bumgarner's motion paired with Tommy Milone's stuff, combined with Rich Hill's consistency and Charlie Sheen's control. You're probably wondering why Eric Surkamp is still starting while Jesse Hahn, and hell, even Sean Manaea are tearing through AAA Nashville like hitters aren't allowed to use bats. You also probably considered it was because Surkamp is out of options, which...
Oh so um, Eric Surkamp actually has an option left, because only 2013 and 2014 are charged option years.— Jeremy F. Koo (@jfkooAN) April 19, 2016
...ok. I was ready to go on a tangent about how it's not just a dumb and bad decision for the A's to start Surkamp, it's irresponsible to their already overworked bullpen which still doesn't have a long reliever, but then Surkamp went out and spun a decent outing, at least results wise. I wouldn't call it a good outing as Surkamp walked the tightrope all day long much like his previous starts, but he did an excellent job at that. The big difference between today's start and previous ones was that his inning intake was slightly higher, something that could be big as the A's embark on a particularly tough stretch of baseball.
Who knows, maybe Surkamp can do his best Guillermo Moscoso. It wouldn't be the first time the A's got production out of a guy who has no business starting baseball games, we've been fortunate in that regard as of late. But it seems foolish to keep running Surkamp out there, without a long reliever, when we have at least one, maybe two better options readily available and wasting innings in AAA. But I digress.
Surkamp's night got off to an inasupicious start thanks to a two out double by Carlos Beltran. Beltran was singled in by everyone's favorite, Alex Rodriguez, to open the scoring early. For the next three frames, Surkamp danced in and out of danger, allowing the leadoff hitter to reach twice only to strand him both times.
The Yankees tacked on a run in the fifth, and while Surkamp was lucky for most his outing, the fifth was marred by a tough call. Didi Grigorious reached on a single to open the frame, only to be erased via pickoff. On the next pitch, Brett Gardner walked.
Call hurts #Athletics— As Strike Zone (@AthleticsUmp) April 20, 2016
Ball 4 should be strike 3
Bot 5 Surkamp vs Gardner
30% call same
1.1in from edge pic.twitter.com/gQpHcCoNiw
Gardner would move to third on a Starlin Castro double and was driven in by a Carlos Beltran sac fly.
In every game, you can look back at different calls and envision the game going the other direction. This one is especially tough, though, as a strike three three call very likely means Surkamp escapes the inning unscathed.
For the first time in his young A's career, Surkamp went out for a sixth inning of work. After getting the first two hitters of the inning, one thanks to an exceptional play by Danny Valencia, Surkamp allowed two baserunners via a single and an error. Scrabble replaced Surkamp to face the lefty Brett Gardner, and in spite of the wildest pitch in baseball history, Scrabble induced a lineout to get the A's out of the inning.
Now, I was a bit harsh on Surkamp above, although I certainly find no fault in him so much as I do the A's decision to start him. Tonight, he gutted out a solid performance and pitched deeper than he has prior, something the A's needed. He battled and kept the A's in the game, and if he is on the hill, I wish him nothing but success.
The A's offense against Pineda
As the season wears on and the A's offense stays missing, you start grasping at different factors that might bring them to life. Maybe a road trip will help! Maybe facing this 6'7" righty with a nasty slider will help! Maybe the A's will hit a bunch of dingers with the short porches in Yankee Stadium!
Unfortunately, you can't hit groundballs for homeruns, nor strikeouts, even if Chris Coghlan's recent K was better than most A's at bats.
The A's mustered two runs against Michael Pineda, the aforementioned giant with nasty stuff. I'll consider that a victory, even if the A's really should do much better.
The A's first run came in the second. Jed Lowrie singled with one out, as did Yonder Alonso with two. Alonso's single was nothing more than a groundball to the opposite side of the overshift on a ball well out of the zone, probably not something we should count on but still a hit nonetheless.
Semien drove in Lowrie with an RBI single on a 3-0 pitch. It was a thing of beauty - a great swing on a get-me-over fastball. I personally love seeing Semien being aggressive and it paid off here.
The A's scored their second run in the sixth. Danny Valencia led off with a triple on a ball that Brett Gardner almost got to. Stephen Vogt did a very A's thing, striking out with a runner on third and no outs, but Jed Lowrie bailed him out with a seeing eye single to plate Valencia.
As always, the story of the A's offense is as much about the missed opportunities. In the fifth, Billy Burns hit a triple to deep right with only one out. Chris Coghlan, needing to merely put the ball in play followed with a strikeout to ruin a golden opportunity.
The A's pen
After Scrabble bailed Surkamp out in the 6th, John Axford came in for the seventh. The hard throwing righty continued to be a revelation, getting a 1-2-3 inning with a K mixed in before giving way to Sean Doolitle who, heart palpitations aside, pitched a clean 8th. Fernando Rodriguez took over in the ninth and in spite of a BABIP single, was able to pitch a clean frame with some help from Stephen Vogt and Marcus Semien who combined to catch Jacoby Ellsbury stealing.
No one in the A's pen has been overworked in terms of innings, but lots of members have pitched in lots of games. It'd be nice for the A's starters to give the pen a bit of a rest, but as it stands, we're treated to the phenomenal depth the A's have assembled with their relievers. When Fernando Rodgriguez is the last guy in your pen, you are in good shape.
The A's against the Yankees pen
The Yankees pen is probably the best in baseball as is, and that's without Aroldis Chapman. The A's actually did admirably against the combination of Chasen Shreve, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller. In the 7th against Shreve, they hit three balls hard, in the 8th, they broke Betances's incredible streak of perfection with a few singles. The ninth was a dominant showing by Andrew Miller, but count your blessings. He's a stud.
With the game tied at twos, we were treated to extra baseball as the ninth came to a close. The top of the tenth went quietly as did the bottom, the latter of which was pitched again by Fernando Rodriguez, underrated A.
In the top of the 11th with Johnny Barbato pitching, professional professional Jed Lowrie smoked a double down the right field line as part of his four hit night. He moved to third on Khris Davis's groundball (yes, he made contact folks) and scored on Mark Canha's single to left.
After such a wonderful 2015, it's nice to see Canha get his first playing time in what feels like forever, even if it came as a substitute. Also nice to see Lowrie playing such a key part of the offense while his defense has been so lacking.
In the bottom of the 11th, new closer (?) Ryan Madson shut the door on the Yanks by way of a 1-2-3 inning. The closer role is notoriously tough to fill, and it's a good feeling having an excellent reliever to fill that position.
I constantly preach the importance of not reading too much into single games and yet here I am, not heeding my own words. Here are my takeaways from today:
-Baseball takes patience
It's 14 games into the year and the A's are still yet to have an actually good offensive game. Khris Davis looks utterly lost, like the twelfth best hitter on a non-competitive little league team. I promise you Davis isn't this bad, which I realize isn't exactly a rousing endorsement. I also promise you he's not some NL mirage. Those, for the most part, don't exist. One of these days, he's going to run into a fastball and put it out of the stadium and we'll all forget about his early season struggles like we have with so many others.
That's true for the rest of the offense too - Vogt, Burns, Valencia, Coghlan and more should all hit better. We'll get there.
-I'm not sure I'll ever stop being impressed by Marcus Semien, big league shortstop. Maybe his 2015 foray into a record setting-ly bad defensive performance was just a ruse designed to make us all appreciate what we have now, but I'm shocked at how far he's come. Tonight, Stephen Vogt had a nice caught stealing aided by Semien's perfect scoop and tag. It wasn't an easy play and yet it was routine, and that's what Semien's become. He takes care of business on both ends of the field and has deservedly become a fan favorite.
-Winning an Eric Surkamp start is an excellent thing, especially when you're offense is borderline comatose. For the first two weeks of the season, the offense has been terrible and the A's are exactly .500 thanks to good starting pitching and even better relief. This can be a very good team if the run prevention half of the equation keeps it up and the offense resembles something nearing competency. I'm getting more excited after every game.