In my second year of college, a good friend of mine who studied music talked me into taking an advanced harmony class in the music department. I had played instruments growing up, and despite being unfamiliar with the Baroque harmonies the class covered, I figured the course would be a breeze. Oh, how wrong I turned out to be. I ended up passing the class by the skin of my teeth, thanks largely to extensive tutoring. The reason the class was difficult is that there were SO. MANY. RULES. I had pages and pages of a notebook dedicated to the do's and don't's of Bach-style harmony and I simply couldn't keep track of it all.
The A's, staring down the barrel of a failing grade, decided to just toss the rulebook aside entirely, and it has been working out remarkably well for them. There was no diminuendo to follow the incredible crescendo of last night's walk-off magic; the A's kept the intensity going, ratcheting it up more the longer the game went on, until the game (and series) fell into perfect harmony.
Here are some of the rules the A's break - the violations of the fabric of baseball which make this team so fascinating:
- Coco and Burns at the top of the order functionally gives us two leadoff hitters.
- Rich Hill is, for all intents and purposes, a 2-pitch pitcher, and yet he is incredibly successful. I know he occasionally throws a change-up and there's some debate about whether his slider is a slider or just a different curveball, but it's probably fair to say he essentially just throws a fastball and a curveball. And yet time and time again, we've seen him fool opposing hitters.
- Our first baseman has very little power while our catchers and shortstop can rake.
- We have a bad run differential (well, somewhat better after today) and yet it's increasingly not hard to look at this team and see a contender.
Hill was on today, but I guess we've come to expect that at this point. His final line: 6.0 IP, 3 hits, 1 earned run, 6 strikeouts, 1 walk.
Sticking with the musical metaphor, Hill's curveball is a glittering arpeggio of a pitch. It floats up and down and shimmers in front of the batter before going up in a puff of smoke. It's a mirage, and aside from how dominant Hill has been, I feel lucky just to have witnessed such an ephemeral thing of beauty this season.
Hill notched 6 strikeouts today. The Rangers were sitting curveball and simply couldn't catch up to Hill's 90-92mph fastball, which was hilarious. They also couldn't really catch up to the curveball either.
The only run Hill gave up came in his 6th and final inning. Ian Desmond singled and then stole 2nd, and with 2 outs Prince Fielder hit a single to bring Desmond home. So 2/3 of Hill's 3 hits came in that inning, and it's the only time the Rangers really did much of anything.
The only thing that stopped Hill from being more dominant was his pitch count. The downside of being effectively wild is that you tend to throw a lot of pitches, and after 6 innings Hill had thrown over 100 and had to get pulled. But seriously, Hill was as dominant as ever today and it was excellent. He has given up 18 hits in his last 6 starts including today, which is about as good a stretch as I can remember an A's pitcher having in the last few years.
Perez: Shaky in 1st, then Good
To open the game up for the A's on offense, Burns frustratingly took a first pitch fastball right down the middle with 1 out, but was able to get on base anyway with a groundball single to left field. Reddick followed up with yet another great at-bat, fouling off several pitches before walking on pitch #8 to put two runners on for Danny Valencia. Reddick sure seems un-strikeout-able these days, huh? Burns and Reddick executed a textbook double steal to put runners on 2nd and 3rd for Big Orange, who worked the count to 3-1 before blasting a single to left center to put the A's up 2-0 in the bottom of the 1st. Double steals are game changers, as the defenders were out of position which opened the door for Valencia's RBI single. And it's not like the Rangers could walk Valencia, because an equally dangerous Khris Davis was batting behind him. And what do you know, Khrush worked a walk as well. Walks have been Perez's main weakness this season and the A's looked to be taking full advantage early. Semien singled to bring Valencia home and make the score 3-0 by the end of the inning. The Rangers bullpen was already seeing activity before the inning was over, though that would prove to be jumping the gun.
Perez settled down nicely and pitched well in innings 2-7, for the most part. He gave up more scattered walks and hits, but with the exception of a Khris Davis home run (#4 in less than 24 hours) in the 6th inning, he kept the A's off the board and did a good job of inducing ground balls. That home run was huge, though, as it came in the bottom of the same inning in which the Rangers scored their only run and kept the deficit at 3 until the A's could blow the game open.
So ultimately Perez was less effective than Hill, but he was able to go an inning longer by being a little more efficient with his pitches. I bet he's sorry he didn't go longer with what happened next.
Fortissimo Offense in 8th
Faulkner came out to pitch the 8th for Texas, promptly gave up a single to Reddick, and got yanked for Luke Jackson. It's always good to see Reddick hitting lefties. With rightie Jackson pitching, Valencia hit the first pitch to right field for a single to put runners at first and second. A passed ball moved Reddick and Valencia up to 3rd/2nd respectively, but ultimately Khris Davis walked again to load the bases anyway. He had 3 walks before today, and then 2 today alone. That home run power is scary for our opponents, y'all. Alonso hit a ball deep to center field that was just a few feet short of a grand slam, but Desmond couldn't catch up to it and everyone moved up 90 feet to make it 5-1 A's. Then Semien came to bat and promptly singled to center field, making it 6-1 Oakland (still with the bases loaded, still with nobody out). Alex Claudio came in to pitch for Texas and struck out Vogt, then inexplicably walked the ice-cold Ladendorf on 4 pitches to make the score 7-1 (admittedly, Ladendorf took a couple good close pitches). Coco hit a sac fly to left center field to make the game 8-1. Billy Burns struck out AGAIN, his 4th time in 2 days, to end the inning.
Fernando Rodriguez came in to pitch the 7th. We saw another fantastic sliding grab on a foul ball by Valencia for out #1. Overall it was a fantastic 1-2-3 inning by F-Rod including a strikeout against Stubbs.
F-Rod stayed out for the 8th. Holaday hit a ball DEEP to left field to start the inning, but Coco ran it down just in front of the wall for the first out. Desmond hit a 2-out single, but a foul pop-out ended the inning safely. Fernando got through 2 innings and needed only 19 pitches, giving up only 1 hit. It was definitely one of his best appearances in what has already been a great year for him. Our bullpen this year is NAILS.
Triggs came out to pitch the 9th with a 7-run cushion. Ladendorf made a great play for the first out. Rua struck out for the 2nd out on a pitch nowhere near the strike zone (Triggs is so dirty against righties). Alonso dug out a well-hit ball and stepped on first base for the final out.
- Billy Burns did not have a good day...again. He struck out two more times today after the two yesterday. Tim is probably right that he needs to go back to being aggressive.
- Ken Korach described Billy Butler chasing down a fall boul as "ambling." I got a good kick out of that. But there's no denying, his defense has been solid thus far. Hopefully not solid enough to justify his continued presence on our roster, but solid.
Anyway, that does it for me today. What a great win to close out a great series. See you all tomorrow for more A's baseball against the Yankees.