I'm starting a campaign. We have buttons and everything: Coghlan for second base over Lowrie! Coghlan over Crisp in the outfield! Seriously, his sixteen home runs and eleven stolen bases last year are screaming for playing time, and his two hits and two RBI today are not disagreeing with me.
I may have a tiny bit mocked tonight's starting pitcher choice, but really, despite his defense's best efforts to hang a lot of runs on him, Eric Surkamp really was a trooper tonight, pitching nearly five innings without a whole lot of defensive help, en route to the A's second win of the season. That win was credited to Sean Doolittle, who pitched the eighth inning, a bold choice for the usual closer. Ryan Madson closed the game with a strong one, two, three performance, looking nasty as he recorded a popup and two strikeouts. We may joke about 2016 picking up where 2015 left off, but there is no mistaking the difference in the bullpen; what was the A's greatest weakness in a sea of them in 2015, is now their best strength in 2016.
Tonight's game began in the finest of fashions; Billy Burns hit the first pitch up the middle for a hit and, almost like he heard tiny voices from the internet, all in unison, screaming "steal!", he took off and stole second base. And just when I went to congratulate him, he committed back-to-back base running blunders that ultimately cost the A's an easy run. With Burns on second base, Jed Lowrie hit a deep fly ball, nearly to the warning track. Burns--literally the fastest man on the field--did not tag up and advance to third. Think that's bad? It gets worse. Josh Reddick squibbed a liner past the infield that squirted out into the shallow outfield and Burns misread the initial play (should have scored) AND the misplay (should have scored AGAIN). I'll let Nico sum it up: "So it's entirely on Burns that the A's didn't score He literally lost 3 chances to score: not tagging up, not knowing that Reddick’s liner was nowhere near an infielder, and not continuing on the hit when Marte slid and missed it. It’s actually hard to be THAT bad at base running."
The game could have fallen apart right then and there as Jed Lowrie misplayed the first play of the bottom of the inning (and sadly, not even the worst play he would make today); a routine ball that anyone but an A's player turns into an out. I'm sure that's exactly how Eric Surkamp wanted to begin his first start, with the confidence of stellar defense behind him. With the ill-gotten runner on first, Surkamp promptly gave up another single to bring up Cano with two runners on.
But then, something rather magical happened. Instead of falling apart, Surkamp got Robinson Cano to fly out--and in a page from the "Billy Burns base running guide", Aoki failed to advance to third on the play--Surkamp induced a popup from Nelson Cruz and struck out Kyle Seager. Hands raised; who expected that with two on and no outs?
Just to even things out, the Mariners made two errors of their own in the second. The first put Khris Davis on with one out. Coghlan flew out, but Birthday Boy Yonder Alonso (weirdly, it was also Felix Hernandez and Chris Iannetta's birthday today) hit the ball into the shift, and he hustled down the line, causing the Mariners to rush the throw, pulling the first baseman off the bag. We were excited for .04 seconds, at least until Marcus Semien struck out. Semien did not have a good night, but at least he has comfort in the fact that he wasn't Jed Lowrie.
Undeterred by their previous failings, the A's came right back in the third inning as Burns jumped all over another first-pitch fastball (Hey kids, Big Ben, Parliament!) for another hit. But alas, probably shamed by his first inning antics, Burns stayed on first base long enough for Jed Lowrie to erase him with a double play. Which is irritating. The A's have so few weapons, and Burns is one of them. Why he isn't stealing every time out is literally beyond me, and he should never wait for a 2-1 count to be doubled off.
It took the Mariners three tries, but they finally got it right. After throwing Burns a first pitch fastball in both of his first two at-bats (which both ended up in center field for hits), he earned a curveball to start his third at-bat. He would later ground out to the pitcher.
Sure it's Little League baseball, and it's really a contest of who tried to lose less tonight, but you have to admire the A's plucky spirit, which finally paid off in the fourth. Danny Valencia started off the inning with a single and with one out, advanced to third on a single by Khris Davis. Coghlan singled in the A's first run, much to the relief of A's fans everywhere.
The A's and Mariners traded home runs in the fifth, as Josh Reddick gave the A's a 2-0 lead ...
... which was promptly cut to 2-1 by Dae-Ho Lee. Surkamp responded by hitting Leonys Martin on an 0-2 count, not the best result, I'll admit. A single and a sacrifice fly tied the game, before Jed Lowrie happened again, botching a routine double-play that would have ended the inning. Fernando Rodriguez replaced Eric Surkamp in the inning, and unlike the usual result of baseball karma, Semien was there to pick up the pieces, promptly turning a beautiful double play of his own to end the inning with no further damage.
'Rodriguez pitched a perfect sixth inning, and John Axford a perfect seventh, highlighting again the one glaring difference between 2015 and 2016; the A's bullpen. The defense looks shaky as ever, but the bullpen is lights out. Sean Doolittle came in to pitch the eighth inning; a smart move when you consider the matchup of Cano, Cruz and Seager against the left-hander. Despite walking the leadoff hitter, he breezed through his own scoreless inning, setting the table for the A's ninth inning.
The first run given up by the Mariners' bullpen this season was a big one; a huge home run by Chris Coghlan to give the A's the 3-2 lead. Madson, with minimal drama, closed out the game, and recorded the A's second win. And we'll take it.
The A's take on the Mariners again tomorrow night at 6:10, Rich Hill against Nathan Karns as the A's try to even their season record.