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Game #75: Axford Gets the Axe

Or maybe the title should read "Axford Axes the A's." Either way, a great outing by Sonny Gray and some strong batting give way to a loss in a mere two-thirds of an inning.

in the 4th, Coco Crisp gets his third career grand slam!
in the 4th, Coco Crisp gets his third career grand slam!
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Santiago began as predicted, teeter-totterish, with little leather or stitches in the strike zone.  Crisp began with a four-pitch walk.  After a Semien strikeout, Valencia was walked on four pitches, most pitches up and out.  Khris Davis, with one out, goes down swinging on a fastball that was clearly up and out on a 2-2 count.  Butler finishes the potential first yielding nothing on a short pop up to the Halos' shortstop.  Two men stranded when we should have eaten Santiago alive!  Not a good start, and it appeared to be the Athletics' fate as they eventually lose it in the bottom of the 9th 7-6.

As if they knew they would need a great deal of runs with Santiago pitching, the Angels came out swinging.  Calhoun took a base hit down the right side. Trout, given mostly pitches in the dirt, went after the third one a few inches off the ground to single up the middle.  Runners on first and second and Albert Pujols, who passed Harmon Killebrew yesterday to become the 11th all-time leader with 574 home runs, reached for a 3-0 pitch and flew out to right field, advancing Calhoun to third.  C.J. Cron then picked up his 32nd RBI of the season with a drive to right field.  Giavotella then took a sacrifice fly deep to center field to score Trout. The inning ends as Jefry Marte strikes out swinging on an 86mph cutter.  2-0 Angels.

Smolinski, platooning with Muncy these past few games, singles to lead off the second and demonstrate why Billy Burns is sitting more than previously.  Phegley takes a deep fly off the right center field wall for a double to advance Smolinski to third.  Nearly picked off at third, Smolinski barely avoids being out number one as Alonso steps into the box.  Broken-bat grounder gives Alonso his 18th RBI and advances Phegley to third.  Textbook execution doesn't continue as Alcantara strikes out swinging.  Two outs, top of the order, and Coco seeks to RBI in Phegley but leaves him stranded as he goes down looking on a questionable 92 mph sinker.

The Angels made a little noise in the bottom of the third when, after Trout struck out, Albert Pujols notched a two-out infield single.  Surprising but true.  Cron then followed with a double down the third base line.  Luckily, Semien made a great grab across his body and threw out Giavotella on a one-hopper to end the inning.   Top of the fourth, 2-1 Angels.

Butler led off the fourth with a grounder to left fielder Daniel Nava.  Smolinski followed with a deep fly to center field but did not advance Butler.  Phegley had a powerful hook down the left field line that showed his power, and the hope was that he could straighten it out—especially with a wide gap in left center—but he doesn't get a chance as he heads to first on a base on balls.  Yonder Alonso follows with a single to right to load the bases.  Alcantara, who struck out the previous at-bat, needed to put the ball in play.  After fouling a few off he goes down looking on a sweet curveball that was down the middle and hittable, but he couldn't pull the trigger.  Lowrie's day of rest is looking like a bad idea right now!

But not to despair!  With bases loaded, Coco receives the same curveball and shows young Alcantara what to do: Coco waited on it and then took it over the left field wall for a grand slam, the third of his career!

Semien, to add another nail in Santiago's coffin, takes it over the left field wall on an 0-2 count.  Valencia ends the inning with a soft grounder to third.  The A's lead 6-2 after the 7th home run of this series and Santiago punching (literally) the mound dirt!  On defense in the fourth, Arismendy Alcantara was stunning and, shifted slightly by design, made a diving catch to end the inning.  So good it takes away all memories of his strikeout the half inning prior.

Sonny Gray began the bottom of the 5th with 69 pitches logged. He walks the first batter, Andrelton Simmons, which brings Calhoun to the plate, 1 for 2 with a run on the day.  Calhoun flies to center field and that leaves Trout and Pujols to make something happen.  Trout grounds to Semien, yet he beats out the double play to stand on first with two outs. The shift was on for Pujols and Albert had a nice wide hole between first and second to single into right and advance Trout to third.  Controversy then ensued when Cron hit the ball in the dirt in front of his foot and was thrown out from Valencia to Alonso, a non-reviewable/challenge play.  Cron contended it hit his foot, yet the replay made it look as if the umpire's call was accurate.

In the sixth, Alcantara shows his speed with his second stolen base of the season after his single into right.  Coco then advances Alcantara with a deep shot to the warning track in center.  Two outs, Semien bats for the first time since his homerun in the 4th.  Grounding to third, Semien is called out on the field, but the play is challenged by Melvin only to be upheld to end the inning.

Gray holds the Angels in the 6th and ends the inning with 106 pitches, 59 strikes and 47 balls.  Immediately the bullpen is up and throwing while the A's bat.  Similarly, Santiago is pulled and Fernando Salas, the same pitcher that gave up the home run to Davis on Friday night, takes the hill.  Three up, three down—we head to the bottom of the 7th with Fernando Rodriguez replacing Sonny Gray.

Carlos Perez pops out to Alcantara for the first out.  Simmons singes Rodriguez's eyebrows with a comebacker that heads to center field for a one-out base hit.  Calhoun, 1 for 3, works a full count and takes it deep to the warning track where Coco Crisp catches it just short of the wall.  Two outs.  That doesn't mean much to  Mike Trout who takes it to deep center field for a two-run homer to shorten the gap, 6-4.  But that was the extent of the 7th inning bleeding as Pujols grounds out to Valencia at third for a 5-3 putout.

The top of the 8th had right-handed pitcher Cam Bedrosian replacing Fernando Salas.  Jake Smolinski popped out to short on the second pitch and Phegley came close to doing the same on fastballs registering 95, 94, and 96 before mixing in a couple of sliders only to hit Phegley on the hand with a 96mph, 4 seam fastball.  Alonso, 1 for 3 with an RBI, flips a little bloop-single down the left field line.  Alcantara steps into the box only to strikeout on three breaking ball sliders.  Two outs and Coco is back with his bat.  While another deep fly to center field, it wasn't far enough this time, and Coco becomes out number three as the Athletics head to the bottom of the 8th and John Axford taking the mound.

In the bottom of the 8th, C.J. Cron grounds sharply to Arismendy Alcantara and is thrown out at first.  Giavotella faces high heat with a 97mph heater that he fouls off after taking a pitch.  Axford then deals him another three fastballs at 97 mph to bring the count to 2-2.  He should have stuck with the heatert but instead threw an 81 mph curve that Giavotella took down the left field line for a double.  Jefry Marte, the tying run, steps into the box with one out. A short shot to center on a 1-2 count, Marte sends the 97mph heater more than 90 feet along with Giavotella who crosses the plate to make the score 6-5 A's.

A double play is desperately needed to end the 8th, but Axford has something else in mind as he puts Daniel Nava on first with a four-pitch walk.  Is he really going to blow this game?  Shane Robinson goes in as a pinch-runner and batter Carlos Perez is pulled for pinch-hitter Jett Bandy.  Bandy pops up the first pitch to short on a cut fastball.  Simmons then proceeds to tie it up by hitting a fat pitch up the middle to score Marte.  Melvin waited one too many batters to go to the bullpen. After 2/3rds of an inning and three hits and a walk, Axford is sent to the showers and Rzepczynski comes in to close out the 8th by striking out Calhoun.  Tie Score: 6-6.

So, in the 9th we begin again—as if the score was 0-0.  Sonny Gray has looked good today, but he will not benefit from Oakland's bats that dominated Santiago!  Houston Street, Angels' closer, comes in to strikeout Semien to start off the 9th.  (Has anyone else noticed that Houston is starting to look older with the fine lines of age?!)  Street fields a grounder from Valencia and runs it out for the unassisted putout at first.  Stephen Vogt replaces Billy Butler at DH, but it yields nothing as Vogt is unable to complete the at-bat; Khris Davis is caught stealing after over-sliding the bag.  Bottom of the 9th here we come.

Liam Hendricks takes the mound replacing Marc Rzepczynski for the bottom of the 9th that begins with Mike Trout who, on the 9th pitch, gets a base hit between 3rd and short.  Albert Pujols, 2-4 on the day, is facing the same shift that allowed him a base hit during the previous shift!  Instead of embarrassing Melvin with another single up the right side, he instead shoots a liner into left; runners on first and second with no outs.  Cron, 2-4 on the day, gets two not-even-close pitches to set him up pretty.  With a little help from the ump, the count goes to 2-1, which has Cron shaking his head on the called strike.  With a hitter's count, Cron pops up into an infield fly call and becomes out #1.  Giavotella, with the count full, is walked.  Bases loaded.  And after three hours and 33 minutes, it ends with Marte sending a sacrifice fly deep for the RBI to win the game, 7-6.