This is a contender for most painful loss of the year.
An inauspicious start
I try to avoid talking about microcosms because I think so often we get caught up in finding them when they don't exist.
But the first inning tonight was such a microcosm of Kendall Graveman. He struck out the first batter up, the resurgent Leonys Martin with a few nasty sinkers. Seth Smith got the inning going to follow with a single to left. Robinson Cano doubled on a well hit ball to center, combined with a not quite perfect route from Burns, scoring Smith.
Nelson Cruz would follow with a strikeout, Graveman would walk Kyle Seager to put runners on first and second, and Adam Lind would end the frame with an absolute bullet, caught by a well positioned Yonder Alonso.
The inning had it all - Graveman struck out two very good players and threw some greasy meatballs to a few others. He displayed the stuff and the suck, and ultimately the suck prevailed, giving the Mariners an early 1-0 lead.
Crisp gets the A's on the board
Is there a better swing in baseball than Coco's two strike approach? In the third, Coco evened the score at 1-1 with a 2-2 bomb to right.
With two strikes, Coco's already small leg kick morphs into a slight stride, typically sacrificing power for contact. It's something only a savvy vet could do, and it requires tremendous athleticism and strength. Crisp showed the latter by crushing a no doubter into the seats in right, throwing his hands at a Nathan Karn's fastball like it was batting practice.
Coco Crisp has been a mild revelation at the plate this season.
Mariners jump back in front
In the third, the Mariner's grabbed the lead back thanks to some wonky baseball and some stupid foot hockey by Graveman.
Leonys Martin started the inning with an annoying walk, recovering from an 0-2 count against a nibbling Graveman. Seth Smith hit a picture perfect double play ball up the middle to follow, but, in an attempt to do something, Graveman kicked the ball, allowing Smith to reach on what was technically a single.
With runners on first and second, Robinson Cano grounded into a real double play, putting a runner on third with two outs. Graveman suddenly had the chance to get out of the frame unscathed, but threw an 0-0 meatball to Nelson Cruz who lined a single to left, putting the M's up 2-1.
I have no doubt that Graveman's outing today will be subject to much debate. He certainly wasn't good, but he was exactly battered either and if you're looking for something that can be construed as bad luck, look to the third. If he doesn't stupidly and inexplicably attempt a shot on goal on a groundball, he's probably out of the inning without that run crossing the plate.
A's bust out in the sixth
Thanks to some BABIP help, the A's took the lead in a very productive sixth. Stephen Vogt fisted a ball to left for a single to open the frame, Danny Valencia followed with a single through an opening in the shift to right, moving Vogt to third. Khris Davis followed that with a sac fly to center, plating Vogt and tying the game at two.
The A's wouldn't stop there. Yondre Alonso singled to right putting runners at first and second with one out. Marcus Semien lifted a flyball to deep center that just kept carrying immediately after, bouncing off the warning track and over the wall for a ground rule double. That would score Valencia from second, and put runners on second and third with two outs, the A's up 3-2.
Chris Coghlan would be intentionally walked to follow (more on that later) loading the bases for Jake from A's farm, who struck out. The inning was still alive for Coco Crisp, 2013 edition, who poked a double down the leftfield line from his weaker side, scoring two more runs.
After all that, the score stood 5-2 in favor of the good guys.
Count your Bob Melvin blessings
We've been through the events in the sixth, but let's take a quick moment to appreciate the hilarity that is baseball managers in general. With runners at second and third and one out, Chris Coghlan and his .150 batting average strode to the plate. Chris Coghlan is 0 for his last 18, owner of the worst average in baseball, and a man more lost than a computer science major on a blind date.
What did Mariner's manager Scott Servais do? He intentionally walked him, of course. I imagine the decision went something like this:
Servais: Any idea who this guys is? Got any stats on him?
Bench coach: No clue.
Servais: Is there anywhere we can find stats on him? Is anyone tracking this stuff?
Bench coach: *finishes T9 text on Nokia phone* Is that even possible?
Servais: Don't know. Let's be safe. Walk him.
That loaded the bags for Jake Smolinski who struck out, temporarily validating Servais's decision.
But alas, the effects of a one out intentional walk don't end with the next batter, as many savvy gamethreaders (including Nico and Jeremy) pointed out. By not pitching to Coghlan, the M's forced themselves to pitch to Coco Crisp who doubled in two more runs.
Bob Melvin has made some interesting decisions the last few weeks, forced by a thinning roster and some bad play. But nothing he's done is in the realm of putting on the worst hitter in baseball intentionally, and for that, we thank both managers.
All is well until the eighth
The bullpen was rock solid after Graveman's departure, from Daninel Coulombe's fantastic 1 2/3rds innings to Sean Doolittle's electric domination in the seventh.
Until John Axford came in.
Axford is no longer the perfect pitcher he was for the first few weeks, he's a mere mortal now. And tonight, he was a regular old Dan Otero circa 2015, leaving balls over the plate to hitters who eat meatballs without even chewing.
A pinch hitting Franklin Gutierrez started with a double that was damn near gone, Cano followed by launching a two run dinger into the seats. 5-4, Athletics. Axford would be allowed to walk Nelson Cruz prior to giving way to Marc Rzepczynski. Scrabble would induce a double play ball off the bat of Kyle Seager and Fernando Rodriguez would get the A's out of the inning with a strikeout of Dae Ho Lee, complete with an excellent fist pump. The score remained 5-4 A's, headed to the ninth.
Madson gives it up
The A's were just so damn close.
Ryan Madson came in for the ninth, inducing two quick outs. Pest and not very good baseball player Nori Aoki slapped the Noriest Aokiest double with two down, a bloop that landed short of an ill advised Coco Crisp dive.
Leonys Martin was next up, and Madson got ahead 1-2 before throwing an absolute meatball.
I've seen better 1-2 pitches at my kid's T-Ball games. And I don't even have a kid!
To Martin's credit, he didn't miss, launching the ball deep into the night, and winning the game for the Mariners.