This was an utterly, utterly bizarre game of baseball. I stand pretty much no chance of doing the strange-ness of this game justice in this recap, but I can honestly say this was one of the most fun, interesting A's games I've seen in a looooooong time. I'll start with the easy to describe stuff and move on to the weirdness after.
Things were rough in the 1st inning for Kendall Graveman. After yielding a leadoff double (on 2 strikes) to Jacoby Ellsbury, he issued a 4-pitch walk to Starlin Castro. Graveman would issue another walk to McCann later in the inning, but he was able to escape unscathed with clutch strikeouts against Mark Teixeria and Alex Rodriguez.
The Yankees made good use of their short porch in right field in the 2nd with Didi Gregorious hitting a fly ball down the line that reached the seats. He couldn’t have hit it much further than 300 feet. Is there a ballpark in baseball that is more specifically designed to suit a team’s lineup? I love that baseball allows for different park dimensions and while it’s annoying that the Yankees have such a tailor-made ballpark for their hitters, it’s also fascinating to think that the Yankees may have locked themselves into a powerful, pull-happy lefty lineup for as long as they’re in this stadium.
Graveman came back with some filth in the 3rd inning, striking out 2 more Yankees to bring the total to 4.
Graveman induced a beautiful 4-6-3 double play and struck out Didi Gregorious in the bottom of the 4th.
The 5th was perhaps Graveman’s best inning of the night. He breezed through three batters, getting another strikeout to bring his total to 7. After throwing nearly 30 pitches in the 1st inning, Graveman had settled in nicely, with his pitch count sitting at 83 after 5 innings.
Graveman sliced and diced again in the 6th, getting a strikeout (#8, a career high) and 2 groundball outs for another 1-2-3 inning.
In the 7th, Graveman got an out off a ball that ricocheted off his wrist to Lowrie. He walked the next batter (again, on a very questionable ball 4) and got pulled in favor of Mark Rzepczynski. His final line for the day: 6.1 innings pitched, 1 ER, 3 hits, 2 walks, a CAREER-HIGH 8 strikeouts, and 9 groundball outs.
Graveman had all of his pitches working for him and threw a good mixture of fastballs and offspeed stuff. His cutter in particular had tremendous movement and kept the Yankees off-balance. He came back from his long 1st inning and managed to recover beautifully. Again and again, Graveman painted the corners, kept his sinker at the knees, and seemed absolutely locked in. He absolutely deserved this, his first win of the season.
First few innings of (non) offense
The game started inauspiciously. Billy Burns connected with the first pitch for a single, but was thrown out at 1st after he was caught off balance and for some reason decided to try to go back to 1st. There have been complaints throughout this season and last about Burns’s "Baseball IQ" and unfortunately this did nothing to help his case. He has tremendous speed, but he still hasn’t learned how to use it. Once Burns was thrown out, Coghlan and Reddick went down quietly.
Both teams were quiet in the 3rd. Khris Davis surprised nobody by striking out, and Alonso followed up with an all-too-predictable groundout to the right side. Eovaldi threw only 37 pitches through the first 3 innings.
4th Inning: Rapid Descent Into Madness
The 4th inning for the A’s proved to be one of the more interesting innings of baseball I’ve seen in recent memory. It's honestly right up there with the 7th inning of the Blue Jays/Rangers playoff game from last year for me, at least looking at the last couple years of baseball.
Burns opened up the 4th with the world’s shortest double. Only someone with Burns’s speed could have stretched that hit into a double, and he actually made it by a decent margin. This proved to be redemption for his 1st inning TOOTBLAN, as Coghlan hit a double perfectly into the right field gap to tie the game at 1-1.
The A’s caught a break with Reddick’s at-bat. He flared a single into shallow left field and Coghlan started to break back towards 2nd before realizing the ball wouldn’t be caught. 3rd base coach Ron Washington was suddenly possessed by the ghost of Mike Gallego and inexplicably sent Coghlan home despite his late jump, but luck was on Oakland’s side as the throw went wide of home plate and Coghlan was safe despite the ball beating him home by 10+ feet. Danny Valencia singled and Stephen Vogt hit a sacrifice fly to bring Reddick home, taking the score to 3-1 Oakland.
And then the inning…just kind of kept going. In a bizarre play, both Headley and and Gregorious fumbled a sure double play ball, resulting in no outs (Gregorious was charged with the error, though it was really mutual). Khris Davis hit a rocket that ricocheted off of 3rd base, allowing him to reach safely and loading the bases. Alonso hit what looked to be a sure sac fly to left field, but Hicks made an absolutely incredible, Cespedes-esque throw to get Valencia at the plate and end the inning. Apparently it was the fastest throw in the history of Statcast:
Aaron Hicks' throw to nail Danny Valencia was registered at 105.5 mph by @statcast - the fastest ever recorded (!).— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) April 21, 2016
But still, hard to complain about 3 runs, right?! Eovaldi was breezing through the lineup prior to this inning, and suddenly his pitch count was well above Graveman’s.
…until it was revealed that Valencia strained his left hamstring on the inning-ending slide at home and had to leave the game, shifting Lowrie to 2nd and Coghlan to 3rd and causing the A’s to lose the DH early in the game. This marks the 4th time this year the A's have lost the DH. Maybe we should try to avoid Lowrie DHing whenever possible?
Graveman At the Bat
Burns opened the 5th with another double, this time on a bloop to right field. Semien and Coghlan went down (Coghlan on a questionable called 3rd strike), then the Yankees intentionally walked Reddick so they could face Graveman with 2 outs. Unsurprisingly, he struck out (though he made contact on a 97mph fastball!). Fun fact: apparently Graveman is the first pitcher to bat in the new Yankee Stadium!
What is happening? Return to madness, 7th inning edition
After Graveman walked Chase Headley with 1 out, he was replaced by Mark Rzepczynski. Didi Gregorious hit a single to right center field and Billy Burns clanked the ball off his glove, allowing the runners to advance to 2nd and 3rd. And then something happened for which I'm basically just waiting for video because it's so hard to describe.
Basically, it went like this: Aaron Hicks hit a groundball to Coghlan, who was playing 3rd after the Valencia hamstring strain. Coghlan ran forward and (barely) tagged Didi Gregorious, then threw to 1st on the run. The throw landed short but Alonso was able to pick it to beat the runner by an inch. The Yankees challenged the play (I believe the out at 3rd, rather than 1st), and while it still seems unclear that Coghlan tagged Gregorious, there wasn't enough evidence to overturn the call. And again, the play at first was really close.
So pretty much, the A's turned the most bizarre double play I've ever seen to prevent a run from scoring. As somebody in the game thread mentioned, this felt like the kind of play that would have gone against us last year, but this is 2016 and our luck may have changed.
Branden Pinder (no relation to our Pinder) came in to pitch the 8th for the pinstripes.
Billy Butler opened up the 8th with…a pinch-hit single? Huh? Ok, I’ll take it. Stephen Vogt followed up with a sharply hit groundball of his own for a single, then Jed Lowrie had a good at-bat and worked a walk to load the bases with nobody out.
Khris Davis came up to bat and I'm sure pretty much all of us were thinking the same thing, but Khrush managed to slam a ball up the middle to score Butler and Vogt, bringing the score to 5-1 A's. With 2 hits and a couple RBIs, this is exactly the kind of game Davis needed to break out of his rut. I heard somebody mention that he was working on his stance in batting practice to make it less open - maybe he figured something out?
In the bottom of the 8th, Ryan Dull came out of the pen with 7.1 hitless innings under his belt. Unfortunately the under-the-radar no-hitter was not meant to be, as Dull gave up an absolute bomb to Carlos Beltran to bring the score to 5-2. If it had to happen, this was the game to do it - we had good momentum and a solid lead, so the run didn't hurt too bad.
The 9th inning, thankfully, was quick and painless. While the A's failed to do anything, so did the Yankees. Sean Doolittle closed the game and he looked like his vintage self. He threw hard fastballs, got lazy fly outs, and notched the game-winning strikeout on a fastball above the belt.
My word count is rapidly climbing so I'll just stop there. Again, it's hard to do this game justice with words. This was a freaky, awesome, kind of sloppy, 4/20-worthy baseball game. The A's now have a 4-game winning streak and look to sweep the Yankees tomorrow with Rich Hill on the mound.
Baseball is a really weird game.