“We don’t want to make too much about it, since it’s Game 2 of 162, but the A’s are clearly a contender; The Division, for a World Series…”.
I’d like to leave you with that magical thought as we close out the first two disappointing games of the 2019 season, ones that we will hopefully look back on in October, and pretend they belonged to Spring instead. I have prepared a dossier for your enjoyment below. Oh, who am I kidding. It’s the length of a thesis, but in case you were sleeping like a sane person instead of participating in the all-night madness that ensued here, you can read alllll about it below. If you’d like the tldr; the A’s came back from an early 3-0 deficit to force extra innings, had all the chances in the world to win the game; really, in four straight innings, and eventually lost on a botched double-play, a very anti-climatic end to what was a pretty exciting night.
If the A’s were bolstered by the bold declaration from this morning’s ESPN announcers, for all the world trying to counteract the least “home game” feel of any game, as Seattle threw Yusei Kikuchi, a lefty making his big league debut in his home country of Japan, much to the obvious delight of the packed house of Tokyo Dome, they sure didn’t show it today. Between Kikuchi on the mound, and Ichiro Suzuki starting in right, it was all-Mariners, all-the-time from the very first pitch. It was reported in-broadcast that this will be the final game for Suzuki, hanging up his cleats at age 45, after a truly remarkable career; a superstar in both countries. I wish him all the best; it’s truly the end of an era.
(Pause for a transcendent baseball moment)
There's nothing like baseball. And no one like Ichiro. pic.twitter.com/MTtGlkgCOi— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) March 21, 2019
Buckle up, buttercups. This game was a four-and-a-half-hour rollercoaster with a little bit of everything, and we still don’t know where Matt Olson is.
It was the middle of the night when this all began. Marco Estrada survived a one-out double in the first by Mitch Haniger, sandwiched in-between a strikeout and two pop-ups, bringing up the A’s for their first look at Yusei Kikuchi.
The A’s lineup had never seen Kikuchi before, in any level of game, and he impressed from his first pitch. I’d like to point out Marcus Semien’s improved eye at the plate, as he laid off a tough 1-2 pitch (more than Matt Chapman did in his subsequent at-bat), running the count full before nearly beating out an infield hit. Only a supremely athletic move from Kikuchi beat him to the base. Chapman struck out and Stephen Piscotty flew out to end Kikuchi’s perfect first inning.
The soon-to-be-patented “A’s Starting Pitching (TM)” struck hard in the second inning, as Estrada gave up what could have been a harmless two-out single to Tim Beckham had it not been directly followed by a hang ‘em and bang ‘em home run by Ryon Healy, of all people. Chad Pinder, the left fielder, didn’t move as the ball quickly flew into the stands. Not one step. Or, as AthleticShark put it succinctly, “But we pretty much expected our pitching staff to be barf.”
The A’s took their time in feeling out Kikuchi; Khris Davis worked a 7-pitch walk to open the second inning as the A’s first baserunner of the night (morning? I have no idea what time it is. Or really, what day it is). Chad Pinder took 5 pitches to strike out, and Matt Olson would have had the A’s first hit except for a nifty play by Dee Gordon for the second out. Jurickson Profar ended the inning on a 4-pitch strikeout, so I guess if you’re looking for a bright side so far in this unholy hour, the A’s may be trailing 2-0, but they saw some pitches in the second.
Onward we go.
Things didn’t get much better for Marco Estrada in the third inning, as he continued to discover the joy of being a fly-ball pitcher in the Tokyo Dome, allowing another monster home run; this time to Mitch Haniger, luckily, a solo this time. Down 3-0, still in the middle of the night, watching our woefully under-Spring Training’ed starting pitching staff (shaky at best at full-strength), in front of a Mariners’ home crowd in a technical A’s home game; well, I’m not going to lie. We aren’t quite enjoying baseball like we did all summer long in 2018.
The third inning started promisingly enough for the A’s, as Ramon Laureano singled to open the inning for the A’s very first hit of the night off Kikuchi, and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Josh Phegley worked hard at his at-bat, going deep in the count, but couldn’t move the runner from second. Again, working hard from the lead-off spot, but not really doing anything with the 2-0 pitch, nor the 3-1, Semien took the count full before flying out for out number two. Laureano, still stranded at second base, turned to Chapman for help, but he grounded out to end the inning, leaving the A’s scoreless through the first three.
The fourth inning saw a nice play from Semien, who picked up a smash off the turf and threw low to first, which was saved for an out by the fancy glovework and picking skills of Matt Olson, With every appearance and at-bat by Ichiro Suzuki, the buzz of the news zapped up and down the crowd like wildfire as he took his final at-bats of his career. He grounded out to end the fourth, even as you are almost rooting for him to end with a hit.
The A’s powerhouse offense went meekly into the good night in the fourth in order. Oh for last night’s seven runs. For those of us making it through the night, it was a grim battle; everything breaking for the Mariners, a historic retirement the same night of a historic debut, the A’s so far, boasting one hit. Cue Major League, “One hit? That’s all we got; one _______ hit?”
The night is not so young. The game is nearly half over.
Marco Estrada shut down the Mariners entirely in his fifth inning, salvaging at least some of his start, and giving some hope that outside this homer-happy dome, and maybe some actual warm-up time, he’ll be fine. Tonight’s damage was done exclusively by right-handed batters; I’m not sure he gave up a hit in five to a lefty. The bar, she is low, but Estrada certainly had a better start than Fiers the night before, and if we’re being honest, he pitched deeper into the game than his Seattle counterpart.
The best chance of the game so far for the A’s offense came in the bottom of the fifth as Matt Olson rallied back from a 0-2 count to lace the A’s second hit to open the inning. In short order, Jurickson Profar followed with a single of his own. Ichiro Suzuki may be 45, but the arm is still there; down 3 runs, Olson wisely advanced to second base and stayed there. Laureano had the world’s worst swing on a 2-0 count, and ended up with a broken-bat flare that was very fortunate not to end in two outs instead of one. As the announcers pointed out, he was not bunting, which was a shame, because Phegley hit what would have been a perfect sacrifice fly had there been a runner on third base. The A’s final chance saw Semien face off against Kikuchi for the third time (in what would be his final batter on the night), and I will stand by Semien’s terrific eye at the plate tonight; after working a deep count, he finally squared up and laced the ball up the middle for the A’s fourth hit, an RBI single to get the home team on the board and cut the deficit to 3-1.
After a night of abject struggles, where nothing seemed easy for the A’s, they finally caught a huge break. Matt Chapman, who was having no more success than the rest of the lineup in squaring up the Mariners’ pitching, hit a squib between the pitcher and the catcher and watched as the ball was dropped at first base, allowing the hustling Profar to score. And in the blink of an eye, the A’s cut the deficit down to a single run, and turned to Piscotty for more. Piscotty’s at-bat was one of the worst of the night; he was off-balance from the first pitch, and struck out swinging in all three pitches.
WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE in the sixth inning, as Mark Canha replaced Matt Olson at first base at the same time Yusmeiro Petit replaced Marco Estrada, whose line was not the dumpster fire we feared at the beginning of the game; he ended with 5IP, 5H, 3ER, 0BB, 1K; a perfectly respectable line even with the two home runs, even an average day by the A’s offense gets him a win. Petit walked the leadoff batter for the first walk of the night (a vast improvement on last night’s shenanigans), but settled down without further incident. Still no news on Olson; “not as important of a story as Ichiro”, the announcers assure us, but I’m guessing the larger impact of the season, all A’s fans, and a whole lot of fantasy drafts have a valid disagreement.
Khris Davis was possibly robbed of a single by a nice jump at third to catch his bid to open the sixth, but a subsequent double by Chad Pinder gave the A’s a runner in scoring position anyway. Matt Olson should have been up at this point, but again, he’s out of the game and we don’t know why, so welcome to the lineup, Mark Canha. The announcers have long passed the point of being insufferable about Ichiro’s retirement, when really all anyone wants to know is HOW IS MATT OLSON and HOW MUCH ARE WE GOING TO DIE. Canha grounded out for the second out, and to add insult to injury after his obnoxious home run, Ryon Healy does some sliding thing into the dugout to end Profar’s chances as well, as the A’s ruin a chance to tie the game.
To no one’s surprise on the Ichiro show, with guest star Ryon Healy, Healy opened the seventh against new pitcher Joakim Soria with a leadoff double, bringing up, you guessed it, Ichiro Suzuki. I would like to point out my sheer annoyance at the ESPN announcers ruining this moment has very little to do with how much I genuinely love and respect Ichiro as a player, but the game is nearly unwatchable at this point, Olson has left the game and we still don’t know why, and it’s the middle of the night and no one is tweeting about it either. The home plate umpire, immune to The Narrative (TM) and Not All Endings Can Be Perfect (TM), punched out Ichiro for the first out, leaving Dee Gordon “to swing like Ichiro and hit a ball like Ichiro and move the runner to third channeling Ichiro”. Right now, “Ichiro” has lost all meaning.
Soria dug himself in pretty deep; the leadoff double (not-Ichiro), a single (not-Ichiro) and a hit-by-pitch (not-Ichiro) loaded the bases with one out (Ichiro), and the Mariners added their fourth run on a sacrifice fly; a play on which the A’s got pretty lucky it wasn’t a bases-clearing double. Soria continued his dreadful inning with a balk to move the remaining runners to second and third and looks like he wants to be anywhere else than on the mound pitching right now. So that’s fun. He walked the bases loaded on four pitches that weren’t even close and only sheer, dumb luck caused Santana to swing at the second pitch and fly out to center to end the inning with no further damage.
WE STILL HAVE NO OLSON NEWS.
I take it back. The worst at-bat of the night was Ramon Laureano opening the seventh, striking out on three straight pitches. After a groundout by Phegley, the A’s were down to their final out of the seventh, but up came Marcus Semien, who clearly had has the best at-bats of the night for the A’s. After working yet another full count, he recorded yet another single. Matt Chapman walked to put the tying run on base, and the A’s nearly benefited from another Seattle miscue as the wildest of all wild pitches might have had a chance to bring a run home had it not careened wildly into the dugout to hold Semien at third. Having a much better at bat than his last, Piscotty walked to load the bases, bringing up Khris Davis. Davis worked a 2-0 count before taking a shot and fouling it off, and on his 2-1 pitch, laced a game-tying single up the middle. Once more for emphasis, GAME TYING! THE GAME IS TIED! THE LATE NIGHT HAS FINALLY PAID OFF WITH A TIE! WE DON’T KNOW WHERE MATT OLSON IS, BUT THE GAME IS TIED!
Alas, a tie is all we would get, as Pinder grounded out to end the inning, but considering the mood a few innings ago, it feels positively euphoric. In fact, it’s so euphoric, that the faint strands of “LET’S GO OAK-LAND” can be heard echoing through the stadium, as our plucky underdogs have rallied despite everything in the world stacked against them.
Sweet Lou Trivino replaced Shaky Joakim Soria to open the eighth inning, and once again, the A’s were dealt an extremely lucky card, as a fly ball off the bat of Tim Beckham did not leave the park, but rather hit the very top of the padded wall, keeping it in the park for a double. Believe it or not, Ryon Healy grounded out, bringing up Ichiro Suzuki in (could it be?!) his final at bat of all time (TM). Alas for the announcers (can he somehow beat it out!?), he grounded out and we are left with #imperfectendings.
The announcers remind us that this is a real game; in fact, it’s a tied game, but they are not believable. And to be fair, in what is an absolutely touching moment, that despite everything, has me full-on baseball sobbing, the entire Seattle team took the field to start the eighth, and then they all headed off the field, leaving Ichiro alone to accept his much-deserved applause and goodbyes. It was A. Moment. and really, made it all worth getting up at the ungodly hour of 2:30AM this morning to be the one to write about it.
Mark Canha opened the A’s half of the eighth after the Ichiro delay (so much for more sleep before work, am I right?) with a great at-bat, working a walk, and Profar stung the ball, but couldn’t get it to drop. And if there was redemption for Piscotty in his last at-bat, there was certainly redemption for Ramon Laureano in his; he laced a single nearly through the gap to get pinch-runner Franklin Barreto to third base. With the go-ahead run a mere 90 feet away, could it be? No. There are no happy endings. Even doing all the right things; Robbie Grossman pinch-hitting for Phegley, it all goes wrong. First pitch swinging double plays that strand the winning run on third are not fan-favorites, everyday Robbie!
And it’s now to the ninth. Enter Blake Treinen, the very best of the A’s sensational bullpen, who was thisclose to having a lead, but instead will attempt to preserve the tie to hopefully set up the walk-off we’ve been waiting for since 2:30 in the morning. Treinen struck out Gordon to open the inning, Haniger behind him and induced a fly ball to end the inning.
On to the bottom of the ninth we go! Armed with a new game thread, and a small but stalwart (and chatty) group of ANers, we watched Matt Festa throw six strikes in a row, good for two outs, but Piscotty, redeeming himself further, managed to knock a two-out single, most importantly, bringing up Khris Davis. Who grounded out, sending us to bonus baseball! Who needs sleep, am I right!? Of course, it’s a four-hour game, complete with extra innings and an in-game ceremony! I’m not even tired yet! And I have a day job!
The A’s made the good decision to keep Treinen in for the tenth, and per his usual, he mowed down the Mariners in order again, giving the A’s one more chance to walk it off. To no one’s surprise—not the least my alarm clock—the A’s did not. Profar gave it a ride, but came up short, and off we go to the 11th. Who will pitch? And will they be as effective as six-up, six-down, Blake Treinen, who started 2019 every bit as utterly dominating as he ended 2018?
If you selected “Liam Hendriks” in the game of A’s reliever bingo, you’d be right! And if you also picked the bonus bonus of him walking the leadoff hitter to start the 11th, you’d also be right! Whee! But in the approximately 5673456th luckiest thing to happen to the A’s in this game, Hendriks induced a broken-bat double-play from Ryon Healy, niftily turned by Semien and Profar. Hendriks then struck out Braden Bishop on three called strikes to end the inning, and for the THIRD TIME MUST BE THE CHARM, the A’s try to walk it off. Oh please, let this work.
No longer the weak strands of a cheer, but rather a full-throated, raucous “LET’S GO OAK-LAND” rained down in the Tokyo dome as after two quick strikeouts to start the inning, Semien singled (again!), Chapman walked, and Piscotty worked a walk himself to load the bases with two outs, and the winning run but 90 feet away, bringing up Khris Davis with two outs, who tied the game sometime earlier between the owls hooting and the sun rising. It’s been a long night, people. And just when A’s fans everywhere were ready to explode with joy, after two straight walks issued, Davis struck out swinging at three pitches. And the game continues on.
We head to the 12th inning. Morale is low. Breakfast is on the horizon, and sleep is nearly out of the question. In the game of A’s reliever bingo, Ryan Buchter is the next called. And he promptly gives up a single to the speedy Dee Gordon to open the inning. Only a great play by Hundley saved a wild pitch during Haniger’s at-bat, but Buchter, perhaps in his quest to prevent the stolen base, ended up walking Haniger. Which was worse. He did record a fly ball out for the first, before he was pulled in favor of Fernando Rodney, who came into the two-on, one-out, do-or-die extra inning jam. And he...promptly walked the bases loaded. With one out. And the go-ahead run on third. And then the A’s made their first (non-pitching) mistake of the night. Rodney induced a slowly-hit ground ball to Semien, who threw high to Profar, but he rushed the throw, overthrowing Pinder at first base, who did his best, but could not tag the runner in time. Gordon scored the go-ahead run and after the third out was recorded, the A’s found themselves facing a 5-4 deficit, and staring down the barrel of an 0-2 opening in the Japan series.
The A’s had all of the chances in the world; really, four straight innings to win the game, and they couldn’t deliver on any. Profar gave it a ride to end the 12th, ending the game with a half-hearted challenge of the final catch of the game, but it was all inevitable as the credits rolled on; the A’s are twice losers to begin the season, and although this morning was a much better game than the last, it’s still a loss.
And so we leave Japan behind, not without some heavy losses, and I’m not just talking about the two games; Jesus Luzardo has been shut down with a rotator cuff injury, and Matt Olson is missing, presumed injured . The announcers do not care. Twitter is silent in the wee hours of this Thursday morning. But, as they say, the game must go on. (Update: Turns out it’s a hand injury for Olson, but we still don’t know exactly what nor how bad.)
Congratulations to Ichiro Suzuki on his retirement, and we’ll see you all back for the weekend series against the Giants and real baseball starting again in a week.
LET’S GO OAK-LAND!