Pretty Pitching. That's the best way to label the type of play today. Luckily it was prettiest from the finger-tips of Sean Manaea. It's not to say that bats from both dugouts didn't connect; they did, actually quite often. But most of the time they connected unsuccessfully and in quite the standard fashion. No lucky plays. No near successful shots. Just standard "hit the ball and your out," mostly on fly balls. The rest of the time, strikeouts stymied many.
The A's picked up the one run on the board in the 6th in true collaborative fashion with a sacrifice bunt by Coco Crisp and a broken-bat Semien RBI. This one run was the only run until the bottom of the 9th.
John Axford came into the 8th after Manaea "blanked" the Astros with his superb performance. Axford quickly dispatched the Astros and he might have been inspired by Manaea, striking out two of three including DH Altuve. Axford was solid which hasn't always been the case this season. In the bottom of the 9th, Ryan Madson came in to save the game and there's no way to say it other than he racked up a blown save. Extra innings favored the Astros as Liam Hendriks gave up the winning run in the bottom of 10th.
The Unfolding: Notable Moments for Each Inning:
1st, Bottom: Valencia bobbles Altuve's grounder to third which ends the 15 game errorless team streak, a franchise record; it's surprising to think that 15 games without an error would be a franchise record. Also notable for this inning: Carlos Gomez swung so hard he dropped to one knee and his helmet fell off.
2nd, Top: Billy Butler pounds the ball to center field 390 feet. Homerun? Nope. Slow Butler + Nice Wall Bounce + Carlos Gomez Arm = #Dangit!
3rd, Bottom: Jose Altuve awarded a sacrifice bunt after a blistering throw from third baseman Danny Valencia barely beats the speedy Altuve. A.J. Hinch opted to DH Altuve today.
4th, Bottom: Sean Manaea has his first 1-2-3 inning of the game including strikeout victim #5 , Luis Valbuena.
5th, Bottom: Another 1-2-3 for Manaea including strikeout #6 to sit Jake Marisnick for the second time today. While Manaea gave up a Danny Worth single, he followed by handling George Springer who grounded into a double play, Semien to Lowrie to Alonso. It's looking more and more like the debacle in Minnesota was a rhythm of the rain issue with a long delay leading to a poor performance for the rookie Manaea; he certainly looks lights out at this point.
6th, Top: Textbook sacrifice bunt by Coco Crisp to advance Matt McBride who got on with a sharp grounder to left. Broken bat RBI single into left for Semien who then advances to second on an errant throw, too high and 20 feet too wide of home plate. No error on the play despite this unbelievably awful airmail by Marisnick. Maybe he was still reeling from striking out for the second time today. (I shouldn't make fun of him; he comes back to lead the charge that gives the Astros the eventual the win.) The inning ends with the tying run at third after a second error (Semien), but Manaea gets out of it with a grounder to Valencia who looks the runner back and throws to first to end the inning.
7th, Top and Bottom: Keuchel sends the A's quietly to their gloves and caps by striking out Butler on a very inside slider, Smolinski on an 81mph, outside changeup and Alonso to fly out to center. The gloves and caps struggled in the bottom of the 7th as Coco commits the third error of the game to allow Gattis to advance to second on his one-out single. A strong 6-3 putout of Danny Worth by Marcus Semien led to a bit of breathing room with Gattis on 3rd with two outs. Manaea topped 100 pitches in his third battle with Marisnick who flew out to Khris Davis in left which kept the shutout in tact by keeping the ‘Stros off the board.
8th, Top and Bottom: Former Athletic and near-submariner, Pat Neshek (2.54 ERA) replaces Keuchel who leaves after 7 innings with 4 hits, 1 earned run, 2 walks (both Valencia) and 5 strikeouts. After getting Matt McBride on a fly-out to left, he jelly-legs Coco Crisp on a 90 mph sinker and follows this with a Semien unassisted grounder to first. Axford then made it look easy, coming in for Manaea and striking out 2 of the 3 batters in a solid performance.
9th, Bottom: Madson makes it interesting, to say the least, by nearly walking the leadoff batter, and eventually getting him on a short pop-up to Correa. With one out, Carlos Gomez takes a nice deep grounder to the left of Semien for an infield base hit. He follows with a stolen base. One out and Valbuena takes a sacrifice deep to Reddick; Gomez tags and heads to third. Two outs and the strapping Evan Gattis is in the box. McBride in this at-bat makes a nice stop on a changeup in the dirt but to no avail. Gattis delivers down the left field line to bat the runner in and stand safely on second. A.J. Reed (.147 BA) pinch hits and goes down swinging. Got hope?
10th, Bottom: Liam Hendriks enters to face Jake Marisnick, 0-3 on the day, to give up a line drive single into center. This was followed by the 5th stolen base of the game on a strong jump by Marisnick and an off-line throw by McBride, not impressive with his throws to second today. Alonso kept the game alive with an unassisted grab and go at first on a hard shot by Marwin Gonzalez that moves Marisnick to third with Altuve up. Jose Altuve, after not chasing the first two pitches was sent to first intentionally. Carlos Correa, 1-4 on the day, stands in on the right side. Composed at age 21, Correa hits a shot to 3rd but Valencia throws wide and the Astro's win it 2-1, error number 4 of the day. The Astros pick up their 8th walkoff game of the year.
Manaea's Performance and the Ben-Porat's 28-Inch Equation:
As mentioned in the pre-game, a new article caught my eye: Eli Ben-Porat's "Quantifying Pitcher Command" (Hardball Times, 7/5/16). In his statistical analysis, he alleges that fastballs thrown above 28 inches are much more effective than below—curveballs just the opposite. When looking at Manaea's 2016 pitch breakdown to-date, it hinted that this might be the case, given that Manaea is primarily a fast-ball hurler.
Given today's performance and his successful strikeouts, Eli Ben-Porat may just have an analytical theory that makes sense. Here's Manaea's pitching statistics at the start of the game.
And here are screen shots of each of Manaea's strikeouts on the day, all above 28 inches.
Either way, those fastballs above 28 inches served the Athletics well today. This game, as a result, should have been an Athletic victory. Maybe take some time to check out Ben-Porat's article. It's better than obsessing on Madson and Hendriks. And bottom line, FANTASTIC job today, Sean Manaea!
Enjoy the Mid-Summer Classic on Tuesday and consider watching the Future's game which will be on shortly.