High atmospheric pressure followed the Cubs from the Windy City to Mesa, AZ today, contributing to a high scoring affair that Ken Korach aptly described as "disheveled."
The A's began setting off fireworks on defense right out of the gate: after striking out Cubs center fielder Ian Happ, Fiers issued a walk to third baseman David Bote. Fiers had the last laugh, picking off Bote at first with Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo at the plate. A's center fielder Ramon Laureano hauled in a deep fly off the bat of Rizzo to finish the top of the first.
The A's drew first blood on offense early, as well: Matt Chapman tripled off the center field wall, and Matt Olson followed up with a prompt RBI single as the first inning ended with the A's leading 1-0.
The pendulum swung swiftly and rather ferociously back in the Cubs' favor in the second inning. Cubs second baseman Cristhian Adames hit a mammoth blast over the right field fence with no outs and catcher Wilson Contreras on first, putting the Cubs ahead 2-1. Later, with runners on first and second, left fielder Johnny Field singled to his counterpart Grossman, scoring right fielder Mark Zagunis for a third run.
Fiers's woes continued in the third as Rizzo put up a fourth Cubs run with the second long ball of the afternoon, punctuated by a two out balk that advanced former A's prospect and star Cubs shortstop Addison Russell to second base. The inning did end with no further drama, however, and with the Cubs leading 4-1.
Nick Hundley cut the Cubs' lead by a third in the third with his second home run of the preseason. On Matt Chapman's second plate appearance of the day, the strong winds blowing through Mesa favored him, carrying a normally-likely-playable shallow fly ball just out of Adames's reach. Matt Olson walked and Khris khrushed a line drive double to center, plating the Matts and tying the game at four apiece.
Shortly thereafter, with K.D. still at second and Laureano at first following a base on balls, Mark Canha singled to bring Davis home, put the A's ahead 5-4, and send Lester to the dugout. Then, with Canha at second and Laureano at third, Robbie Grossman continued the A's exploitation of today's windy conditions, as Ian Happ could not track down Grossman's fly ball to center field and Canha and Laureano scored the A's fifth and sixth runs of the inning. A's led 7-4 a mere third the way through the game.
The Cubs wasted little time marshaling the winds to their own advantage once again as Fields homered in the top of the fourth with one out, sending Fiers to the showers. Happ and Bote sent reliever Jerry Blevins's offerings off of and over the wall, respectively, to tie the game 7-7. Susan Slusser was not impressed.
Jerry Blevins' rough spring continues. He's allowed three homers in four games.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) March 13, 2019
The Cubs held off the A's in the bottom of the fourth and took the lead in the top of the fifth against Lou Trivino, who relieved Blevins to start the inning. The Cubs notched four hits and three runs in a chaotic fashion that seemed, to borrow from a lesser sport's jargon, par for the course by this point. Trivino struck out three, K's seeming to be the only way to get outs given the kite-like flight pattern baseballs were exhibiting today.
Halfway through the game, the Cubs led 10-7.
Frankie Montas, cooking with respectable heat and enjoying strong performances this spring, prevented the Cubs from scoring in the top of the sixth and the A's gained ground in the bottom frame: Chad Pinder reached second on an error by second baseman Trent Giambrone, and Cliff Pennington sent Pinder home on a single to left. Montas delivered a second scoreless inning in the seventh, keeping the A's within striking distance. Oakland failed to score in the bottom of the seventh, which was the only inning in which neither team scored.
Both teams added on in the eighth inning, with substitute catcher Taylor Davis's RBI double scoring one for the Cubs in the top frame and Chad Pinder's two run homer in the bottom frame bringing the A's within one run going into the ninth.
Montas preserved the A's one run deficit in the top of the ninth, and in the bottom frame things were looking good after Mike Zagurski walked Franklin Barreto and Greg Deichmann to put runners on first and second with no outs and Sean Murphy at the plate. Murphy did not squander his opportunity to win it for the A's, doubling on a line drive to left fielder Charcer Burks to end today's very wild ride of a ballgame.
Odds & Sods:
- In the bottom of the second inning, Ramon Laureano was put out at first on a relay from Adames following a hard hit lineout from Canha to Field in left. This was not his finest moment on the base path, but perhaps he found solace in remembering a vaguely similar but far more dramatic play he made last year in Anaheim that yielded a similar result. Ramon also got picked off at first in the bottom of the fifth.
- To my ear, Marcus Semien didn't seem especially crisp at shortstop today, forcing Matt Olson to do those digs he dug so dexterously at first base on two occasions early in the game. For his own part, our Gold Glove winning first baseman was charged with a fielding error in the fifth inning.
- Frankie Montas pitched four solid innings in relief, serving up high-nineties velocity, and, according to Ray Fosse, an effective selection of pitches. He yielded just one unearned run and struck out five while walking just one and allowing two hits. His ERA this spring stands at 0.69 and he's struck out 13 in as many innings. This kid clearly isn't ready to throw in the towel yet!
The A's, sitting at third place in the Cactus League standings behind the Padres and Royals, will now prepare for tomorrow's flight to the island of Honshu in the Japanese archipelago for some transpacific interleague action (Hamfight, anyone?) and an official season opening series with the Seattle Mariners at the Tokyo Dome.