The Oakland A’s lineup was alive and well in their first game of the 2019 season, swatting three homers and scoring seven runs. Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite enough to support the pitching staff, who struggled to find the plate for much of the night. In the end, the Mariners fended off a late comeback bid to defeat the A’s 9-7 on Opening Day in Japan.
Oakland got off to a quick start on Wednesday, needing only three batters and seven pitches to notch their first run. Stephen Piscotty did the honors, blasting a solo shot for MLB’s first homer of the year.
However, Seattle answered back quickly and decisively. The Mariners plated five runs in the 3rd off starter Mike Fiers, then another in the 4th against reliever Liam Hendriks, and finally three more in the 5th off Ryan Dull.
Making those Seattle rallies worse was that each one was gift-wrapped by Oakland. Fiers wasn’t his sharpest but he was mostly cruising into that 3rd inning, and he got the second out with just one runner on base and one run already in. But the third out eluded him, and instead he hit a batter, walked another to load the bases, and served up a grand slam to Domingo Santana. The frame added up to five runs on three hits.
Hendriks did more of the same. He walked his first two batters, who also happened to be the eighth and ninth hitters in the lineup, and eventually watched one of them come around on a sac fly. Seattle scored this run in the 4th despite not recording any actual hits and giving up a free out on a sac bunt.
Things went even worse for Dull, who also walked his leadoff batter in the 5th. He retired the next two and nearly got out of it, but a double by Ryon Healy and then a dinger by Tim Beckham piled more runs onto the lead.
All told, the Mariners earned seven hits of their own, but Oakland’s pitchers handed them a total of eight free passes, between six walks and two hit batsmen. Four of those freebies ended up scoring, accounting for nearly half of Seattle’s output. By all means, they brought their share of thunder, but the A’s gift-wrapped some extra runs with their wildness and the Mariners did a great job of capitalizing on those opportunities. The close final score makes that even more frustrating, giving the feeling that the A’s really beat themselves as much as anything.
To Oakland’s credit, though, they kept fighting all night just like we grew accustomed to seeing last summer. After Fiers’ explosion put them behind 5-2, Khris Davis powered them right back into it with a two-run homer.
They didn’t manage anything more off starter Marco Gonzales, but once he exited they jumped on the the bullpen. Nick Rumbelow let the first two batters on base in the 7th, and then Matt Chapman delivered a long ball to bring Oakland back within reach.
It wasn’t meant to be, though, as the A’s were unable to complete the comeback this time. They went quietly in the final two frames, including a perfect 9th by Hunter Strickland for his first save as the Mariners closer.
Just as the pitchers beat themselves to an extent, the lineup missed some chances to do further damage too. In the 2nd, an error by Ryon Healy (playing 3B in place of the injured Kyle Seager) turned a potential double play into a disastrous second-and-third, nobody out situation. The A’s began to make them pay when Marcus Semien singled in one of the runners, but catcher Nick Hundley grounded into a double play to end the threat. Again in the 4th, they put their first two runners on base but Hundley bounced into another GIDP to squash that rally. They almost homered their way to victory anyway, but only one of their runs came outside of those three dingers, and just another well-timed single or two could have made a big difference.
On the bright side, Chapman didn’t have to wait long to flash his Platinum Glove. Dee Gordon tested him with a beautiful sac bunt attempt, and he may have beaten it out for a hit against many third basemen. But Chapman got him, and it wasn’t close.
There were a few other positives. J.B. Wendelken breezed through two perfect innings, striking out a pair and needing only 29 pitches, and Lou Trivino struck out the side in the 9th. Robbie Grossman entered as a pinch-hitter and notched his first hit in green-and-gold, ahead of Chapman’s dinger. Jurickson Profar also recorded a double for his first A’s hit, though on defense he got eaten up by a grounder on the Tokyo Dome turf.
There was plenty to like about this game, but in the end there wasn’t quite enough for a victory. They lost a close one in which they handed the opponent a bunch of free runs, and in which they left a few of their own chances on the table, and that’s always tough to swallow. But it’s just one game and there are 161 more to go, so the moral for this story is to celebrate the return of baseball, marvel at some dingers, watch that Chapman bunt-play on loop, and go get ‘em tomorrow.
The A’s play again on Thursday at 2:35 a.m., Marco Estrada vs. Yusei Kikuchi.