The Oakland A’s almost did it again.
Monday had all the ingredients of a textbook 2020 A’s win, except for a crucial one at the end. They fell behind against the opposing starter, then caught up against the bullpen to tie it. However, this time they couldn’t come up with the winning run in time to push over the top to victory, and the Arizona Diamondbacks got there first for a 4-3 walk-off at Chase Field.
It took the A’s a while to get going, as Arizona starter Zac Gallen carried a no-hitter through five innings. Oakland finally earned a couple singles in the 6th to break up the no-no, and they found their way onto the scoreboard in the 7th with a solo homer by Robbie Grossman, who continues to be one of the hottest hitters in the league (194 wRC+).
On the other side of the ball, A’s starter Chris Bassitt wasn’t his sharpest but still gutted his way into the 6th while keeping the game within reach. His lineup got him off the hook by rallying for a pair of runs in the 8th, but in a rare letdown the bullpen wasn’t able to hold on long enough for the offense to finish the job.
Bassitt holds serve
The D’Backs didn’t give Chris Bassitt any easy innings, as the right-hander had to navigate around baserunners in each frame.
Arizona threatened in the 2nd, reaching second and third with nobody out, but Bassitt escaped with a pair of clutch strikeouts and a groundout. However, in the 3rd they got to him, on a solo homer by David Peralta.
That was it until the 6th, and even then Bassitt’s pitching wasn’t really the cause of the key rally. He allowed a leadoff double and the runner moved to third with one out, causing the infield to play in for a chance at throwing home. They got the grounder they were looking for, but it wasn’t hit hard enough nor directly enough at a fielder. Second baseman Tony Kemp had to range a few steps to collect it and had virtually no chance to beat the runner to the plate — to the extent that perhaps he should have just relented and taken the easy out at first.
That decision loomed large soon enough. Bassitt had a chance to pick the overly aggressive runner off first base but threw the ball away, turning a likely out into a runner on third. The next batter followed with a seeing-eye chopper that sneaked up the middle, outperforming its .050 expected batting average on Statcast.
While Bassitt did allow the legit leadoff double, the rest of the inning consisted of a lazy flyout, a weak routine grounder (also .050 xBA), and another nearly auto-out grounder, sandwiched around a throwing error. The A’s earned those runs, just like the box score says, but it was despite Bassitt’s pitching not because of it. Yusmeiro Petit came in to finish the final two outs of the frame.
Bassitt: 5⅓ ip, 3 runs, 3 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HR, 5 hits, 87 pitches (54 strikes)
He only gave up four really hard batted balls (100+ mph), three of them hits including the homer. Otherwise, nothing had an expected average over .400, only three more were above .200, and only two were above 95 mph exit velocity. This could reasonably have ended better for Bassitt — if Kemp gets the easy out or Bassitt completes the pickoff, then he probably avoids the third run entirely and finishes the 6th.
Quick note of confidence for Kemp, who had a fine game aside from that one decision. He made several other solid plays, some of which might not have been converted by the team’s 2019 personnel.
Grossman stays hot
In the top of the 6th, Austin Allen broke up Zac Gallen’s no-hit bid with a clean single, and Semien followed him on base. They didn’t score, but at least it was progress, and it preserved their MLB-best streak of not being no-hit in nearly three decades.
In the 7th, the unreasonably hot Robbie Grossman got them on the board. It was his fourth homer of the season, after hitting six all of last year — his career-high is 11 back in 2016. This one went an even 400 feet.
Toss in another single later on, and Grossman’s slash line is now .300/.455/.633, which is just a tiny notch below 2000 MVP Jason Giambi — and actually better than Giambi, when adjusted for era (194 vs. 183 wRC+).
After struggling against Gallen and his changeup, Oakland finally got into Arizona’s bullpen in the 8th and immediately scored, as usual.
It took them exactly one pitch to begin a rally against the D’Backs first reliever, Hector Rondon. Vimael Machin singled, one of three solid pieces of contact by the rookie in perhaps his best showing at the plate so far, and Allen followed by doubling into the RF corner. Second and third, nobody out. The comeback was on, with the top of the order due up.
Marcus Semien popped out. Dang. Kemp walked. Bases loaded. Matt Chapman lofted a fly to right, plenty deep to score the runner from third, and they were halfway to tying it.
That brought up the powerful Matt Olson, with a lefty in to face him — a mustache vs. mustache matchup, though Andrew Chafin’s bushy monstrosity is currently more impressive. Olson nubbed a weak flare behind the shortstop position, which in Arizona is manned by 2019 Gold Glove and Fielding Bible winner Nick Ahmed, the best defensive shortstop in the majors. However, Ahmed lost sight of the ball for an uncharacteristic error at the worst possible moment, letting it fall to the turf.
Instead of the third out, the play resulted in the third run, tying the game. Oakland wasn’t able to keep pushing and take the lead, but at least they were out of the woods for now.
It was uncanny. It was Wilmer Flores unable to decide where to get the out and choosing nowhere. It was Hunter Pence breaking in on a deep-but-routine fly and letting it fall. It was the gift from the opponent that the A’s have been so good at taking advantage of lately, but this time they weren’t quite able to build on it. One more hit would have done it, but Mark Canha spent all his magic at Oracle Park last weekend and needs to recharge — he flied out to left.
Perhaps with more time, the A’s lineup could have broken through in extras. But even the best bullpens aren’t perfect, and Oakland’s had a rare hiccup Monday — and, as with Bassitt, not even a terrible one.
Joakim Soria breezed through the 8th, but tried to squeeze in one more batter in the 9th. That plan backfired, as the extra batter, none other than Ahmed redeeming himself, doubled into the LF corner to put the winning run in scoring position.
That brought Jake Diekman into the game, and from his perspective it was basically the 10th inning with the automatic free runner on second. He got a strikeout, then allowed a ground ball single, but at a scorching 115.9 mph off the bat it was too hard for the run to score. Good ol’ baseball, where hitting the ball better can hurt you and hitting it worse (as in the 6th inning) can be the reason you succeeded.
An intentional walk loaded the bases, and that brought up Peralta, who had already homered earlier. Diekman got ahead 0-2 in the lefty-lefty matchup, then got him to chase at a slider just above his ankles. But Peralta got wood on it, just enough to pull it weakly toward the right side. It found a tiny sliver of a hole between Kemp and Olson, which was all it took to get through, drive in the run, and walk it off. The 62.1 mph doink did what the 115.9 mph smash couldn’t (the runner would have scored even from second if necessary).
There’s nothing to worry about. Soria has been nails all year, and this was the first earned run he allowed. It’s also the first time he’s been asked to come back out for a second inning, which is not his normal role, so perhaps all we did was pay for the information that it’s best to keep him to just the one brilliant frame per night. He still has an 0.84 ERA, 1.62 FIP, and zero blown leads.
As for Diekman, he inherited a tough situation and didn’t pitch badly at all. Sometimes you just get beat, and in this case he got bested by BABIP as much as by the D’Backs themselves.
Arizona played a slightly better game and earned this win, but it was close enough to have gone either way. The A’s have been stealing games like this all year because they’re good enough to capitalize on opportunities right down to the last strike, and they did so again on Monday. Just, only about 90% as much as they needed to, and on the same night that they gave a couple of those chances right back to the D’Backs.
Try again tomorrow
The two sides are at it again Tuesday, earlier than usual at 3:10 p.m. since they’re both traveling to Oakland afterward. Frankie Montas is currently scheduled to start for the A’s after missing his last turn to back tightness, and Arizona hands the ball to right-hander Luke Weaver.