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Game #147: A’s can’t hang on against Rangers, lose 7-6

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This was almost a good game, but the result stunk.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Depending on where your priorities lie at this point in the Oakland A’s season, Friday’s 7-6 loss to the Rangers may have been a best-case scenario.

The A’s played a good game, one they can be proud of, with some big hits from the rookies in particular. They beat up one of the Cy Young frontrunners in Cole Hamels, and overall it was an entertaining evening. And then, at the last minute, a veteran reliever came in to blow the save and add a tally in the loss column, keeping pace in the tight race for the No. 3 draft pick. Wins are always preferable, but Friday’s compromise is at worst a nice consolation prize.

*** Click here to revisit the Game Thread ***

The game started quietly, with just a failed rally on each side through the first three innings. The A’s got things started in the 4th when Khris Davis swatted an opposite-field, two-run homer over the 407 sign in right-center; ESPN measured it at 445 feet. It was a vintage Khrush blast (video), exploding off his bat to the immediate, visible dismay of Hamels. It was his 38th of the year, tying him for the fourth in the AL with — wait for it — Chris Davis. The A’s rookies added on another run, on a Ryon Healy double and a Brett Eibner single (video), and Oakland had a nice 3-0 lead.

The Rangers finally got to A’s starter Kendall Graveman in the 5th inning, stringing together a two-run rally to cut into the lead, but Oakland answered right back. They got a couple runners on base in the top of the 6th, and then Eibner sent a towering fly into the right-field corner for a three-run dinger (video). The A’s led 6-2.

And then it slowly unraveled. Graveman struggled again in the 6th, eventually getting knocked out with a run in and a couple more runners on. Sean Doolittle was able to escape with only one inherited runner scoring, but the lead had dwindled to 6-4. In the 7th, Ryan Dull allowed a homer to Carlos Gomez to make it 6-5. Liam Hendriks worked in and out of his own jam in the 8th, and the A’s continued clinging to their slim lead.

And then, the Tank Commander arrived. Actually, that’s not a fair title for closer Ryan Madson, who’s only blown one other save in the second half (plus a loss in a tie game). Tank Lieutenant? Tank Technician? Aspiring Tank Enthusiast? Either way, there can’t have been an A’s fan alive who looked at the scheduled trio of Ian Desmond, Carlos Beltran, and Adrian Beltre, with Rougned Odor to follow, in a one-run game, on the road in Arlington, and didn’t immediately know how this was going to end. Heck, Madson had already blown saves this year on homers by Desmond and Beltre.

The only question was the precise sequence. It ended up being a pleasant new surprise, at least: a Beltran double, yadda yadda yadda, with two outs Jonathan Lucroy yanks a hot grounder past Healy down the third-base line for the two-run walk-off hit (video). As you may have already calculated from my earlier statement, it was Madson’s third blown save against the Rangers this year.

But it’s okay. Madson is what he is, a good reliever who is stretched but capable as a closer. He’s got 30 saves, and if you add in his three holds he’s got an 82.5% success rate holding leads (plus 6-of-8 tie games preserved). His 3.43 ERA isn’t great but it’s fine, his K/BB is still around 3/1, and most importantly he’s stayed healthy. He’s been exactly what the A’s hoped they were buying last winter, and this game doesn’t change that. He’ll either be a valuable trade chip this winter, or a good starting point for the 2017 bullpen — which will hopefully be supporting a competitive team.

So the A’s got to see Eibner, Healy, Davis and friends notch some big hits, and although the late loss is a bummer it also doesn’t really hurt anything. If you watched this game then you probably still enjoyed it, or at least 95% of it, and if you didn’t watch it then you got a boost in the 2017 draft position without having to see another team walk us off. Through the lens of a cellar dweller, it was a pretty solid night.

***

A few other notes:

  • Renato Nunez picked up his first MLB hit, on a grounder up the middle! (video)
  • Joey Wendle drew the start at 2B against a lefty starter. He had previously been in a platoon with the right-handed Chad Pinder, but Wendle has been playing well lately on both sides of the ball. I’m not surprised to see him getting extra attention, and I wonder if he’ll more or less be the everyday guy the rest of the way.
  • Khrush on this road trip, in five games: 6-for-17, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 5 BB (!!), 4 Ks.
  • With two more doubles, Healy now has an 1.150 OPS and nine extra-base hits in 14 September games.

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Finally, another look at the new slide rule in action. Texas’ Carlos Gomez got called for interference for a bad slide while trying to break up a double play (video). It wasn’t the worst slide ever, but I think they made the right call. Gomez didn’t really go straight into the bag but rather semi-targeted Wendle, he started his slide a bit late, he reached out to grab Wendle with his arms, and he ended up a good 10 feet past the base when he finally skidded to a halt.

Five years ago it would have been called a good hard clean slide, and functionally it still is because everything turned out fine. What we’re trying to avoid with the new rules are the ways this play can go wrong. And don’t be fooled, this can totally go wrong and is completely avoidable:

Photo Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of times this play goes just fine, but now and then someone tears an ACL, and more often than just “stuff happens.” I have enjoyed baseball exactly as much this year without slides like this one, so I don’t miss it at all.

The A’s and Rangers go at it again Saturday at 5:05 p.m., Raul Alcantara vs. Yu Darvish.