Be honest. There were probably multiple times in this game, possibly at 4-0, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 when you had trouble imagining how exactly the A's would turn this one into a one-run game. Be real honest. But you were pretty sure it would get that way somehow, right? It doesn't exactly take a nervous A's fan or a seer to know that no lead is safe in a park like Toronto, especially going up against a lineup like the Blue Jays, so at some point, you expected all of those unscored runs from the feast of the early innings to come back and haunt the A's like so many ex-relationships. This game was a lot like jumping out to a big lead in a race and helplessly watching as a faster runner slowly gains ground over the rest of the race. There is no question that the runner will overtake you; the only question is will you reach the finish line before this happens? Only a really bad decision by the Blue Jays kept the ninth inning from being a one-run job with the A's facing the heart of the Blue Jays' lineup. But instead, the A's parlayed their fourteen hits into eight runs; none bigger than their very last hit, as a sorely insulted Khris Davis crushed a double to score the insurance run that the A's put on base, and a bonus run that the Blue Jays flat out handed them. And just to put the icing on the terrific cake that has been the first few weeks of 2016, the A's won all the replays today.
But let's start at the very beginning. The story line before today's game was definitely centered around Aaron Sanchez, the reliever-turned-starting-pitcher who everybody was talking about after his first few starts. The A's came out of the gate today with a bit of swagger; like a team that has won five games in a row, the confidence that only a series win against the defending World Series Champions and a sweep in Yankee Stadium can bring to the park. The A's were less-than-impressed with Sanchez; they used him for batting practice in the game today, racking up ten hits and six runs against him in just four plus innings. And although Sonny was very good, it took his best effort for seven innings, plus the A's best reliever so far, and both closers to stave off the Blue Jays' comeback in what--if Game 1 is any indication--will be a thrilling weekend series.
With one out in the first, Chris Coghlan was hit by a pitch for the A's first baserunner and moved to second on a base hit by Josh Reddick. With two outs, Stephen Vogt doubled to right field (for his first of his three hits), scoring Coghlan, but not Reddick. For those of you at home, who were yelling, "SEND HIM", don't you worry; you'll get your chance in the second inning. At any rate, Ron Washington elected not to send Reddick and the A's settled for one run in the first.
They nearly ran themselves right out of the second inning, but recovered nicely, thanks to the big bat of Coghlan, who bailed the A's out of the inning with a huge three-run swing; his third home run of the year. But let me back up. The much-maligned team of Khris Davis and Yonder Alonso put up back-to-back singles to set the table in the second; a sure sign as any of a good night for the A's. Marcus Semien recorded the A's third single in a row, and instead of holding Davis at third, Washington elected to send him…right into the waiting arms of Russell Martin at home for the first out. Billy Burns nearly hit into an inning-ending double-play as the next batter, but you have to admire his "I don't do double-plays" spirit and the fact that even though he hated his swing on the pitch, he still ran like the game depended on him beating out the throw. And, well, it kind of did. Because he was able to beat out the throw, the inning continued, bringing up Chris Coghlan, who smashed the aforementioned home run into the Toronto crowd to give the A's the early 4-0 lead.
The A's picked up right where they left off in the third inning, as with one out, Stephen Vogt singled and Coco Crisp walked. It looked for all the world that Khris Davis hit into an inning-ending double-play, but Davis was called safe at first, and upon review by Bob Melvin, Coco Crisp was called safe at second; the Blue Jays victim of the neighborhood replay, which has been adamantly enforced this early season. So with the bases loaded and one out, Alonso struck out and Semien lined out to end the inning. Ball don't lie, I guess. Sure, the replay call was technically correct, but c'mon.
The fourth inning was the first one, two, three of the night for the A's, as two ground outs and a strike out prolonged Sanchez' outing. (Spoiler alert: The A's weren't done with his line.)
Meanwhile, on the other side of the diamond, Sonny Gray was dealing. The first hit allowed was a solo home run in the third, and all he did around it was strike out Blue Jay hitters, racking up six K's in four innings. The A's not only won a challenge on offense, but they also won a challenge on defense; the fourth inning ended on an overturned double-play call at first base, as Yonder hopped around, incensed at the no-call. Well played, Melvin.
The A's finally added on to their three-run lead in the fifth, and it was a good thing they did, as they showed Sanchez the early showers. Lowrie and Vogt singled to start off the inning, putting runners at first and third for the A's. Coco looked like he might bunt the runners over, but did way better than that; a wild pitch during his at-bat scored Lowrie and his double to right scored Vogt to give the A's a 6-1 lead.
The A's would see their 15th baserunner reach as Burns was plunked to open the sixth inning, in contrast to the Blue Jays' three. But the Blue Jays made some noise in the bottom of the inning as they tried to take advantage of rare wildness by Gray. Although they loaded the bases twice in the inning thanks to three walks, and some loud outs by the middle of their lineup (Donaldson and Bautista both just missed a three-run home run and a grand slam, respectively), they were only able to score a single run, cutting the A's lead to 6-2. Sonny Gray looked pretty done after the sixth, but the A's tried to squeeze just one more out of him, and they, well, sort of succeeded, despite the arm of Khris Davis.
The Blue Jays opened their half of the seventh much in the same way they ended the sixth; putting runners on base against Sonny Gray. Pillar singled to open the inning and advanced to second on a routine, shallow fly ball to Khris Davis. He never saw the runner going, and couldn't have thrown him out if he had. That 90 feet would prove to be important, as on the second single of the inning (also to Davis), Pillar was able to score. But suddenly, when all looked grim, Gray twirled a double-play after getting behind 2-0 and neither pitch was close to a strike, and found himself with seven innings complete.
Ryan Dull took over for the eighth to face the heart of the Blue Jays lineup. I guess you could say it was a Dull inning, except dull in the case of being slowly eaten by a school of great white sharks. He recorded the first two outs, but after two long at-bats, walked a batter and gave up a single to put runners at first and third, but more alarmingly, brought the tying run to the plate. Which also brought Sean Doolittle into the game. Let's just say that Doolittle was not the closer we were looking for, as he walked the bases loaded and gave up a single that suddenly drew the Blue Jays into a 6-5 game, Sonny Gray's win and the win streak hanging perilously in the balance. But he did coax a ground-out to end the inning, and off we went to the ninth.
Reddick hit a soft single to open the ninth and with one out, moved to second on a ground-out by Vogt for the second out. So Reddick is standing on second base with two outs, and Coco Crisp is at the plate. You're already down one run. A pitcher is NOT on deck. You are the home team. What do you do? What do you do? If you guessed, "Walk Coco Crisp intentionally", you lied, because who does that!? Khris Davis muttered something along the lines of "It's only the third week of the season, jerks" as he crushed (or khrushed) a ball down the line, scoring both Reddick and Crisp. Yeah he did. And yeah, it was just as satisfying as it sounded. Madson came in for the ninth and with a one, two, winning replay call, three, the game was over, Gray notches the win, Madson the save, and every single A's player had at least one hit in their sixth win in a row. It's a good night. Celebrate indeed! And oh, what the hell, FIRST PLACE!
The A's go for lucky number seven tomorrow in a breakfast special. We'll see you back here at 10:07AM with Bassitt vs. Happ.