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Game #42: A Fastball Down the Heart

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Oakland Athletics Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Link to the Game Thread

The A’s fail to get the sweep against the Cleveland Indians, disappointing mothers throughout Oakland and its diaspora of fans. Today’s defeat largely could be traced to one very poor pitch made by Ryan Buchter when he was needed most, but a lackluster offense and Daniel Mengden, who was shaky both early and late in the game, also played their roles in the A’s loss. However, this loss does not change the fact that this was a much-needed, highly-successful home stand on the heels of an abysmal road trip.

It was somewhat surprising that Mengden was left out of the starting rotation to start the year, having shown flashes of a number two or three starter during each of his initial stints with the team. This year in Las Vegas, Mengden had been one of the few effective starting pitchers the team had, possessing forty four strikeouts and allowing just twelve runs in thirty nine innings pitched on the season. With Mike Fiers, having thrown 130 pitches in his no hitter on Monday, in dire need of some extra rest and Mengden performing the way he was in the minor leagues, it only seemed natural to call up the funky righty to make a start for the big league team.

Unfortunately, Mengden got a rude welcoming back to the major leagues and was on the ropes early. Francisco Lindor ripped a poorly located changeup for a single on the second pitch of the game, and behind him the light hitting Mike Freeman battled and worked a walk to place batters on first and second to start the game. A strikeout of Jose Ramirez gave Mengden a path to escape the inning unscathed, but Carlos Santana ruined any of hope of that with a booming double off of the wall in center field for a run-scoring double. A sacrifice fly a couple of batters later doubled the Indians lead to 2-0 before Mengden was able to walk off the mound in the first, having thrown nearly thirty pitches.

The A’s offense, against starter Jefry Rodriguez, was lifeless until the third inning. In that inning, Ramon Laureano walked to become the A’s second baserunner of the game, and he advanced to second on a productive groundout from Josh Phegley. With two outs in the inning, it appeared as though the team would go quietly yet again, but Jurickson Profar got ahead in the count and smacked a single up the middle to bring Laureano home, advancing to second on an ill-advised throw. Just one pitch later, Stephen Piscotty grounded the ball sharply up the middle to tie the game.

For a while, the game remained as a tight, taut 2-2 affair. Both teams struggled to solve the opposing starter and the game’s pace began to quicken. Between the third and fifth inning, only one Indian batter reached base, Leonys Martin able to work a walk but unable to advance from first. However, by the sixth inning, Mengden’s pitch count was encroaching upon one hundred pitches and more of his pitches were touching meaty bits of the strike zone. Carlos Gonzalez and Jordan Luplow each singled, and Mengden was pulled from the game in favor of Ryan Buchter, with two of the next three Indian batters due up being left handed.

In two pitches, Buchter induced a screaming line drive out to second base for the second out of the inning, and with the Indians’ backup catcher Roberto Perez due up, a safe return to the dugout was in sight, but Buchter’s first offering to Perez was a low 90’s fastball that couldn’t have been more perfectly down the heart of the plate if he tried. Perez didn’t miss it, and the Indians were up 5-2. Two of the three runs were charged to Mengden, giving him a final line of 5.1 innings pitched, four strikeouts and four walks, and four runs allowed.

Matt Olson did have a response in the bottom half of the inning, blasting his first home run of the 2019 season well over the high wall in right center field, but the home run was a solo shot, and after that the A’s only managed two baserunners for the remainder of the game. Up against one of the best bullpens in the game right now, the team just had no answers.

At this point, it is just nice to see the A’s winning more often than they’re losing, so even after a loss today it is difficult to feel all that down and out about the A’s performance this home stand. There is quite a lot of work that needs to be done for the team to dig out of the hole that they dug for themselves, but with the entirety of the AL West outside of the Astros underperforming, not all hope is lost.

The A’s will now fly to Seattle to play a short two game series against the struggling Mariners. Hopefully, using this momentum, the team will have its first successful road trip of 2019.