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Game #48: A’s Can’t Overcome Will Little

MLB: Oakland Athletics at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

***Link to the GameThread****

Grab your pitchforks.

The A’s have done plenty good at beating themselves this year, from the daily errors to bullpen implosions to general "representable producty-ness." It can often be ugly but it is never unfair. In today’s wake-and-baseball affair, they were unfairly beaten by the home plate umpire, Will Little.

Jharel Cotton was shaky in his first inning back with the A’s after his brief stint in AAA. While he struck out Gardner to start the frame, he followed that up with a walk, a hit by pitch, and then a wild pitch to give the Yankees runners on second and third base without the need to take the bat off of their shoulders. The Yankees would push one of those runners across the plate to score on a sacrifice fly, but Cotton settled down and limited the damage to the one run.

From there, Cotton coasted comfortably, albeit while throwing too many pitches and running his pitch count up. The Yankees made some hard contact, but that hard contact was, by and large, right at fielders for loud outs. By the fourth and fifth innings, people began to take notice that the Yankees still had a fat zero in the "Hits" column. It was clear that there was no way Cotton would be able to last long enough to pitch a no hitter himself, but the prospect of a combined no-hitter was in the air. Two outs into the sixth inning, however, Cotton was running out of steam as he climbed up past his previous high in total pitches thrown in a game. He walked Gary Sanchez rather meekly and then pitched a slider right down the heart of the plate and into Matt Holliday’s wheelhouse and surrendered a two run home run. Cotton would exit the game after giving up another single. His final line on the day would be 5.2 innings pitched, two hits, three runs, three walks, and five strikeouts. The fact that he battled back hard after his rough first inning and pitched at an elite level before tiring against his final three batters is a positive sign that Cotton may have righted what was wrong during his time in the minor leagues.

There is also the question of whether or not Melvin waited too long to take Cotton out, given that Cotton was obviously at the end of his rope and the game was tied, but considering Cotton hadn’t yet allowed a hit and needed just one more out to finish up the sixth inning, it was understandable to leave him in. Montas, Coulombe, and Axford did their jobs just fine in relief and didn’t allow any more Yankee hits or runs.

Cotton, and his return to the team, was not the story of today’s game, as strong of a performance as he had.

After a sharp Mark Canha single with one out in the top of the first inning, Jed Lowrie worked a full count but was called out on strikes on a backdoor slider that didn’t actually slide back into the zone. It was unfortunate. Considering Khris Davis walked in the following at bat, the A’s could have had something interesting going early, but the call was the call and there was plenty of baseball left to play and make up for it.

After a sharp Trevor Plouffe single with no outs in the top of the second inning, Chad Pinder worked a full count but was called out on strikes on a high fastball that was actually at the letters and out of the zone. It was unfortunate, as having two on and no out to start an inning typically is a recipe for success against a pitcher struggling with his command early, but the call was the call and there was plenty of baseball left to play and make up for it. The A’s didn’t score in either inning, and then Sabathia settled into a groove, at one point retiring eight straight A’s, and the game remained a tight 1-0 match until the top of the sixth inning.

Mark Canha led off the sixth with a hard groundball out to third base. Jed Lowrie then looked at five pitches that were out of the strike zone and was called out on strikes for the second out of the inning.

(Screenshot courtesy of sc00by)

Khris Davis walked to keep the inning alive, and then Ryon Healy hit a shot on the ground up the third base line and into the left field corner. Brett Gardner had been shading to deep left-center field and was playing well off of the line, and so it took him a long time to reach the ball and get it back into the infield. Khris Davis was able to score easily from first base and Ryon Healy reached third base on the throw home. The game was now tied, but it certainly could have given the A’s the lead if Lowrie had been allowed to reach base. The A’s nearly got the lead anyways on a Trevor Plouffe bloop into shallow right field, as Castro got to the ball in time but couldn’t handle it, but Aaron Judge was perfectly positioned to corral the rebounding ball for an unconventional 4-9 put out.

In the seventh inning, right after the Yankees re-took the lead, Josh Phegley hit a one out solo home run to left center field to bring the A’s within one run of the Yankees. Sabathia was taken out of the game with his team holding onto a tenuous 3-2 lead, the A’s constantly keeping the pressure on by getting guys on base.

In the top of the eighth, Lowrie led off the inning and, once again, was called out on strikes on a pitch that was low and out of the zone. While the entire team had been trying to deal with the expanded strike zone all game, Lowrie had gotten the bat unjustly taken out of his hands three times in increasingly important game situations, and if anything was rather composed and measured in his screaming feedback to the umpire before leaving the playing field and heading for the clubhouse, ejected. Chad Pinder would have to switch from DH to second base for the final innings, and the insanity of the A’s electing to carry eight relievers and three bench players (one of whom is injured, so it’s really two bench players) shined through in fallout of Lowrie’s ejection.

Khris Davis walked and Ryon Healy lined his second double of the game into the left field corner, but it was hit harder so Davis was forced to hold up at third base. With the game on the line with the tying run just ninety feet away and the potential winning run 180 feet away, the Yankees brought in their closer Dellin Betances. Surprisingly, the Yankees infield did not play in, seemingly willing to gamble on Betances getting his strikeouts, and willing to concede one run in order to be better able to prevent two from scoring in the off chance an Athletic got a hit. So Trevor Plouffe just needed to make contact on the ground, and the A’s could tie things up in the late innings, but Plouffe was robbed of his chance as well, as a high slider stayed high and out of the zone and was taken, but homeplate umpire Will Little calls Plouffe out on strikes like he had done to so many others on the afternoon. This time, it was Bob Melvin who got himself ejected.

The A’s wouldn’t score in the eighth, as the final batter of the inning Chad Pinder also struck out, his at bat ending on a check swing on a ball in the dirt. Will Little called it a swing without an appeal. Check swings are subjective, but it didn’t really look like Pinder swung.

Matt Joyce was the A’s final hope in the ninth inning. He worked a 3-1 count and took a fastball that was up and out of the zone for what should have been ball four. It was not called ball four. Matt Joyce struck out to end the game.

By my count, there were at least five instances in this game where Will Little made a bad call that went against the A’s that made a significant difference in either the A’s chances to score in that inning, or impacted the actual number of runs the A’s scored. While the strike zone wasn’t perfect for the Yankees either, it is unquestionably obvious that the A’s and Yankees had two separate strike zones at the plate tonight, and the bad calls almost always adversely effected Oakland and not New York. This was demonstrable bias and cannot be tolerated in any way shape or form. This entire game should have played out completely differently. The A's still could have lost, but it could have been a fair loss.

The human element in baseball needs to be limited to the humans playing baseball. It has no place in officiating, and unless MLB can establish a plan to fix the problem as close to overnight as possible, then bring on the robot umps.

The A’s lost today 3-2 in a game where they only allowed two hits and had great at bats all game from everyone not named Rajai Davis. They shouldn’t have lost. They play for the series victory tomorrow at 10:05 AM.