Going into tonight’s game, it was easy to take for granted where the A’s were at. Clinching a playoff spot was fresh on the mind, the team has caught fire the past few months, and gaining home-field advantage in the wild card game felt more like icing than the actual cake.
But in a one-game playoff series, you need to take and wield any little advantage you can get. Playing in Oakland is that advantage the team needs against an equally talented Rays club. And if the A’s didn’t win today’s game, the chances of there being another Coliseum baseball game in 2019 would’ve gotten significantly slimmer.
But the team knew the consequences of losing. They understood the stakes. And in the face of a quiet night from their lineup, the team, in their last meaningful game of the 2019 regular season, rose to the occasion.
Pitching and defense carried the night, as exhibited by the bare 1-0 score. Brett Anderson, as reliable as ever this season, shut down the Mariners’ lineup in five quick innings. Only allowing four baserunners and striking out a whopping three batters — whopping by Brett standards — the veteran pitcher did everything he could to get the A’s their 97th win of the season. Mixing and matching, inside and outside, high and low, Brett made his case for a playoff rotation spot.
Beyond his own abilities, the largest reason behind Brett’s success this season has been the defense behind him. For the starting pitcher who induces the most contact in the league, having a strong defense to secure those balls in play is critical. Tonight, as they have all season, the A’s defense simply got outs. The play of the night happened in the bottom of the 5th inning with runners at first and third, their 1-0 lead on the line. Brett pitched into a slow groundout back to the pitching mound. Olson, charging like a bull towards the ball, picked it up and quickly beamed it home, where Sean Murphy was able to apply the tag to Tom Murphy. Murphy on Murphy crime, you love to see it.
Following Brett’s masterwork, the combination of Yusmeiro Petit, Jake Diekman, and godsend Jesus Luzardo continued to quiet Seattle, holding them scoreless for the last four innings of the game. Things looked dicey for a moment in the 7th inning when Diekman, who’s been the model of inconsistency, allowed two singles in a row, placing runners at first and third. Fortunately, there were two outs and he was able to get a light flyball to get out of the jam.
As good as the pitching and defense were tonight, all of it would’ve been for naught had Ramon Laureano not came through with the only run of the night. Two outs into the 3rd, Laureano stepped out to the plate and worked a solid 3-2 count against Marco Gonzales, who was starting to get on a bit of a roll. But Gonzales, who rarely throws his 89 mph fastballs, laid one right down the middle for Laureano to pull it over the left field fence, giving the A’s the lead once and for all.
Luzardo, who had a lights out 8th inning and got two quick outs in the 9th, had some trouble getting the last out of the game. It was the most shaken he’s looked thus far in his short major league career. After striking out Kyle Lewis, Luzardo allowed a line drive single to Tom Murphy, who was replaced on the bases by Dee Gordon. With the threat of a stolen base, Luzardo threw three straight balls to the next batter up, one of which was a wild pitch that allowed Gordon to get to second base anyway. The fourth pitch of that at-bat was a 97 mph straight to Dylan Moore body.
With the tying run in scoring position and the game-winner at first, this was likely the most important at-bat Luzardo’s had so far, and he handled it perfectly. All it took was three easy pitches for a flyout to end the game and send the A’s back to Oakland for the AL Wild Card game. Now we can say for sure that tomorrow’s game is mere icing on the cake. It’s been an incredible season, Athletics Nation. Thanks for allowing me to cover games and write about my favorite team in sports! See y’all Wednesday!