One of the most frustrating aspects of last season was the A’s unending talent of giving runs away vis-a-vis errors and mental mistakes while seemingly never taking advantage when their opponents did the same. In today’s close and competitive game against division rival Mariners, the A’s did just that en-route to a hard fought victory.
In today’s game, the A’s offense was hot early as they got out to an early lead. Following a strike out of Alejandro de Aza to start the game courtesy of longtime A’s-foe Felix Hernandez, Adam Rosales got things going for the A’s with a sharp single to left-center field. Ryon Healy would then continue to assuage the fears of those wary of a sophomore slump with a hard ground ball double to left field to bring Rosales in to score and give the A’s an early lead. Healy would not be standing at second base for long, as he was subsequently driven in two pitches later on a scorched line drive off the right field fence from the bat of Mark Canha, hit so hard that he didn't make it beyond first. Though he wouldn’t score as well, Canha continued to reinforce the notion that the A’s would be looking to do more damage with their feet this season as he rather easily stole second base.
Jharel Cotton, starting today for the A’s, had a superb first inning of work but a mediocre second. In his first inning of work, the first two Mariners’ hitters were disposed of easily on lazy pop-flies for the first two outs of the first, before escaping trouble that had formed following a Kyle Seager weakly-hit single and a probably-blockable wild pitch that had put a runner in scoring position with a strikeout of Daniel Vogelbach. In his second inning, Cotton found trouble after surrendering a triple to former A’s prospect Boog Powell, who would score on an RBI groundout. He nearly found more trouble after following that RBI groundout by walking the next two batters he faced, but following a mound visit, finished his day of work with an easy groundout of Leonys Martin to escape any more damage.
In relief of Cotton, Daniel Coulombe, a chief competitor for the final bullpen spot, struggled. In the third inning, while primarily facing left handed batters, Coulombe allowed a leadoff double on a 2-2 pitch to Guillermo Heredia, who would soon steal third base with ease. Vogelbach, who had struck out in a similar position earlier, would tie the ballgame up with an RBI double before being driven in himself by Carlos Ruiz on a single to left field. Coulombe would get two sharp groundouts to end the inning, but the damage had already been done and the A’s found themselves behind.
The A’s wouldn’t be behind for long, however. While the A’s had only scored in the first inning, the Mariners’ defense had been looking rather shaky all day, gifting the A’s a few extra opportunities (most notably, Joey Wendle forced a poor pickoff attempt from Felix Hernandez in the second inning that allowed him to advance an extra base). After the action slowed down for some time in the middle innings, the A’s took the lead in the fifth after they took advantage of some more sloppy Mariners’ play, when Brugman hit a sharp, low line drive to left field that eluded a diving Boog Powell, rolling all the way to the wall while Brugman raced to third base. De Aza would follow-up by working a full count before tying the game back up with a ground rule double hit to deep right-center field. With de Aza still standing at second base with two outs, and Stephen Vogt at the plate, a slowly hit ground ball to second base went right through the legs of Mike Freeman and into right field, allowing de Aza to race around to give the A’s a 4-3 lead.
Coloumbe’s lackluster appearance notwithstanding, the A’s pitching picked up the slack as the game churned steadily along. Ross Detwiler faced the minimum in his one inning of work, expertly inducing weak contact and also earning himself a strikeout versus James Ramsey on just three pitches. John Axford would follow in the fifth inning, and while he struggled a little bit with control and walked the first batter he faced, he was bailed out after getting Kyle Seager to bounce into a double play that allowed him to finish his inning up without allowing any runs to score.
Vying for the fifth starter’s spot, Andrew Triggs allowed a leadoff groundball single to center, but retired the next three batters he faced easily and stranded the leadoff batter at second base. In Triggs’ second inning of work, three simple groundouts would be all the Mariners could manage against the crafty sidearmer.
Young and future A’s would help to tack on the lead in the top of the eighth inning. Rangel Ravelo, fighting to make himself relevant once again, walked after a leadoff strikeout of Chris Parmelee. Renato Nunez, who has been swinging the bat extremely well early on in spring training would then put runners on second and third base with a booming double to center field. After getting buzzed up and in on two straight pitches, Chad Pinder, also fighting to make himself more relevant once again, hit a deep fly ball that would serve nicely as a sacrifice fly to extend the A’s lead to 5-3.
Phenom A.J. Puk took the mound in the eighth inning after earning "oohs" and "ahhs" in his first appearance of spring, and was slightly less effective this time out, though effective enough. The first batter Puk faced, fellow initially-named person D.J. Peterson, worked the count full before taking Puk deep to left field, just barely clearing the fence. Two other Mariners would walk in the inning versus the young, electric lefty, but two other Mariners would also strike out, with no Mariners crossing the plate in the inning to ensure the A’s held onto their slim lead, 5-4.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, with minor league filler Ben Bracewell taking the hump for the A’s, middle infield defense tried its darnedest to give the game away to the Mariners, as Franklin Barreto booted a groundball at shortstop, and Chad Pinder flubbed a groundball at second base two batters later. However, the future ace Bracewell successfully navigated around those defensive miscues and got two consecutive K’s to end the ballgame, solidifying the A’s victory.
The A’s are due to see a lot of the Mariners next season, so to see the team play a tough and competitive game against a team expecting to make a run at the playoffs is nice to witness. It was also nice to witness the A’s taking advantage of miscues from the other team rather than squandering their extra opportunities, and not allow their own defensive miscues to cost the team an ever-so-vital win. Though it was by the slimmest of margins, the A’s played well and earned themselves a well-earned victory.