After a winter of speculation and cultivating hopes and expectations for the A's approaching season, the A's emerged to stormy weather. April showers poured down on many of those expectations, as injuries began to pile up and up and the team was playing frustrating and inconsistent baseball, but there was still reason to hold on to hope, because after April showers, there are May flowers. But it kept showering, and showering, and those expectations were steadily diminishing. Whatever seedlings that were starting to grow and blossom in the form of a winning streak would simply get drowned and washed away by another rainy week.
But right at the end of May, the newest set of seedlings were growing once more. These seedlings appeared stronger than some of the previous efforts, but a bad enough storm could very well undo everything yet again. And yesterday it rained, hard, as the A's fell to the Astros 12-2. And it was raining again today but the stadium's closed roof was able to hold off the falling water, at least for a while.
After a lackluster effort in the top of the first inning against Astros' starter Collin McHugh, the A's got the game going by loading the bases on a Danny Valencia walk and two singles, and the slumping Chris Coghlan made a positive contribution by hitting a hustle double into right field to drive in two runs. Following that, the A's were gifted a run as the Astros' center fielder Jake Marisnick did not put himself in a good position to throw home on a shallow fly ball by Josh Phegley, and A's runner Yonder Alonso was able to score relatively uncontested on what should have been a very close play at the plate. Just like that, the A's were up 3-0 with Kendall Graveman looking to build off of his win in his last start.
Typically, it takes one inning to really see what kind of Graveman would be taking the mound that night. Today, it took two. After a quick first inning that featured a slick double play on a hit and run and required only nine pitches, the Graveman that has struggled with his command and deception emerged. Before the ooey-gooey feeling of taking a three run lead could slowly fade, Graveman surrendered a double, and then a home run to Evan Gattis, and then allowed runners to get to second and third. A diving catch by Chris Coghlan on what would ultimately be just a sacrifice fly prevented the inning from getting more out of hand than it had already gotten. In the next inning Graveman hit Carlos Correa with a pitch and then served up an RBI double to Colby Rasmus on the next pitch. After a fourth inning that was refreshingly similar to the first inning in result and pitch count, following a single, a wild pitch, and then a run-scoring single, Graveman was removed from the game having allowed five runs in 4.1 total innings with only one strikeout to his name.
Danny Valencia continued to prove his vitalness to this A's lineup as he brought the A's within one run in the sixth inning with a leadoff home run off of a tiring McHugh. The lineup, in general, continued to put up generally good numbers, and is showing signs of emerging from its season long slump.
The bullpen behind Graveman performed admirably. Coulombe was the first out of the bullpen, and pitched 1.2 innings with no hits, one walk, and one strikeout. Dull followed with a now to be expected scoreless inning, with two strikeouts thrown in as well. Doolittle got into trouble early by allowing a leadoff triple, but struck out Colby Rasmus, Luis Valbuena, and Marwin Gonzalez (with an intentional walk of Evan Gattis mixed in), all swinging, in order to close out the eighth with the A's down by just one run.
Heading into the ninth inning, the A's offense had been putting a few runners on base but wasn't able to make any headway towards driving those runners in, and with Luke Gregerson taking the mound in the ninth to try and close the game, the offense needed to place its best foot forward to mount a comeback against the right hander with the big slider. After putting up long at bats, Coco Crisp and Billy Burns were unable to reach base, placing the game in the hands of Jed Lowrie, the same Jed Lowrie who had recently discussed how he changed his approach and swing in order to spray more singles and sacrifice power to reach base more often. Jed Lowrie hit a game tying home run.
Axford entered the game with the game now tied following Lowrie's tall home run that delicately and beautifully floated into the right field stands. With the stadium electric with excitement and anticipation entering the bottom of the inning following the stunner, Axford responded and rose to the occasion by getting three swinging strikeouts of his own to send the game into extra innings. He performed well enough to earn himself a second inning, in which he merely earned himself two MORE swinging strikeouts to move the game along into the eleventh inning. It was at this point Axford was nobly relieved by Fernando Rodriguez, who finished the eleventh without allowing any runs and getting some swinging strikeouts of his own.
Throughout the extras, the A's were continuing to get bodies on base but failing to drive them in. Despite Lowrie's previous heroics, the offense was frustratingly unable to get the big hit yet again, the hit that would be able to send the team home happy. More and more pressure was getting placed on the bullpen to keep the game locked at five while the offense would follow good at bats with poor ones. Good approaches mitigated by bad approaches. At the same time, all was going according to plan for the pitching staff in a game like this, as, with the top of the Astros order coming to the plate in the bottom half of the twelfth inning, A's ace closer Ryan Madson was set to take the mound.
Four pitches later the game was over, and the raindrops started to fall once more.
Following April showers and May flowers, there is June gloom (at least Southern California). When Spring starts to transition to Summer, and the weather is supposed to start heating up, sometimes the process seems to stall, and depressing, foggy, overcast weather dominates. When the season begins in April, when Spring is new and fresh even if there are showers that hinder the success of the club, it comes with the knowledge that seeds are being planted and will soon mature and grow together until they can render a strong, long lasting crop. But if it just keeps raining, and raining, and nothing grows in May, there is trouble.
The A's haven't cultivated anything yet this season. On days like today, a victory could potentially turn the tide and turn a June gloom into a June boom. But there is always something that is preventing the A's from growing where they've been planted. It's the offense not producing, it's the defense making too many errors, it's the starters not going deep enough into games, it's the bullpen getting overworked, it's the injuries happening up and down the squad, it's the starters giving up too many runs for the offense to overcome.
All of California is getting slammed by the drought, but it's been raining for months over this team. Sonny is pitching tomorrow, hopefully the staff ace can bring the stuff that earned him that title and can shine through the gloomy weather. A bit of Sonny, summer warmth could do this team a lot of good.