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Game #118: White Knuckled Victory for the White Elephants

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Los Angeles Angels Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It was easy enough to have a divided mind during today’s game. Seattle and Houston were locked in another tight affair, one that saw dramatic lead changes and extra innings. Those extra innings, meaning extra bullpen usage, works out rather conveniently for Oakland, as the A’s are due to play three games against each rival over the next seven days. That stretch could very well be the most crucial of the season, and represents a chance to make a real statement to themselves and the baseball world, as the A’s can completely shake up the standings between now and then.

It was also a bit hard to pay attention because this game had thirteen pitching changes, and six of them happened in the middle of an inning. For as much action as there was in this game, there were just as many breaks in the action. While this isn’t necessary indicative of any deeper problems in the sport, this is the exact sort of game Commissioner Manfred has nightmares about. This regulation game took nearly four hours to complete.

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After a Nick Martini strike out, Matt Chapman extended his on base streak in the most undesirable way possible, by getting plunked by a fastball in the rib cage. The Chapman hit by pitch was followed by a double by Jed Lowrie, the 1000th hit of his career, and Khris Davis hit a sacrifice fly to put the A’s on the board early. A 109-MPH single off Olson’s bat and a second HBP off Canha’s knuckles plated the A’s a second run and set the stage for a Semien RBI single shortly thereafter for a third.

Trevor Cahill labored through his first two innings pitched and surrendered the lead. Since returning from his latest injury, Cahill has had an awful time with missing spots out of the gate, but after an inning or two he put things together and would cruise for the remainder of his start. Today, he never really got it all together.

In the first, a fastball in Kole Calhoun’s sweetspot and a letter high sinker down the heart of the plate were ripped for a double and a single to cut the A’s lead to 3-1 before the team could return to the dugout. His second was worse, as the Angels’ backup catcher and number eight hitter lined a single off of Lowrie’s wrist, as the A’s weren’t safe from being hit by balls even in the field, and then Eric Young, Jr doubled to place batters at second and third. A productive out and hard hit single off of Justin Upton’s bat tied things up.

The A’s retook the lead at about the same time the Mariners officially beat the Astros, looking to be playing some of their best ball heading into what should be an emotional and stressful three game set. Facing Jim Johnson, the Angels’ third pitcher of the day in their effort to bullpen a game, the bottom of their order set put runners on first and second in front of Nick Martini, who looked awful in his first two at bats on the day but redeemed himself with a softly hit RBI single to give the A’s the lead once more. Matt Chapman followed that single up with a booming sacrifice fly, and then Jed Lowrie kicked things up a notch by blasting a home run to right field and pushing the A’s lead to 7-3.

Another run was tacked on in the fifth when Semien doubled off the wall for his third hit of the day and scored on a squib single from Chad Pinder. And then the offense disappeared without a trace. In total, the A’s offense struck out sixteen times as opposed to just one walk and five (FIVE!) hit batsmen.

After a quiet third and fourth innings, wherein he looked to be settling in like he had in previous starts, Cahill’s fifth inning began dubiously by hitting Justin Upton. The next two batters went down quietly, but Cahill couldn’t put away Jose Fernandez and gave up a double that cut the A’s lead to 8-4 and was subsequently removed. Cahill’s final line was 4.2 innings pitched, four runs, seven hits, three walks, one hit batter, and six strikeouts. Cahill’s ERA on the road is more than two full runs higher than it is on home, so hopefully he can fix his road woes as soon as possible.

Yusmeiro Petit was brought on to relieve Cahill, and he got out of the fifth with no further damage done. The same could not be said for the sixth, wherein he gave up a solo home run to Fernando Arcia and saw the lead shrink to 8-5. Ryan Buchter was brought in to replace Petit, but he walked the one batter he faced. So Lou Trivino was brought on to replace Buchter, and he walked the first batter he faced on eight pitches, and was forced to pitch to Shohei Ohtani as he represented the tying run.

Trivino got the strikeout of Ohtani he needed and the A’s escaped with no further damage, but Melvin’s decision to remove Petit in favor of what wound up being two overworked relievers is one that certainly ought to be questioned. The team has worked hard to acquire a bevy of talented relievers, and they should be used liberally given the team’s starting rotation, but if no pitcher can ever be trusted to get out of their own messes, it won’t matter how many arms they acquire, they won’t last.

In the seventh, Fernando Rodney kept the Angels off the board but needed to throw twenty pitches and allowed a runner to reach third base, but things did not go so well for another bullpen newcomer, Familia, who, after getting two quick outs, walked Kole Calhoun, allowed a double to Justin Upton, and then a two run single to Ohtani to reduce the A’s lead to just a lone run.

The A’s threatened but didn’t score in the ninth, giving Treinen no possible room for error in a game that had, at one point, been a laugher. Thankfully for the hearts and livers and fragile objects in the proximity of A’s fans everywhere, Treinen showed the rest of the bullpen how its done, and he struck out the side on just eleven pitches to end the game.

The A’s won. So it’s fine, really. It is only slightly ridiculous that the A’s used more pitchers on a day where the Angels bullpenned. So what it was 8-7? Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

The A’s are less than three games out of first place.