The Oakland A’s lost on Sunday, but not in the way that makes you worry about them moving forward. They played a good game against a top opponent, but the key short hops went the other way in a close, hard-fought affair.
In the end, the San Diego Padres prevailed 5-3, capturing the series win at the Coliseum. This one could have gone either way, though.
Here’s one simplistic way to look at how close this was. The Padres won by two runs. The A’s had one unjustly wiped off the board by another botched replay review in the 2nd inning, and then later in the game both teams homered but San Diego had a runner on base for theirs. That’s the difference right there — a blown call and some fortunate sequencing.
None of that is meant to take away from the Padres’ victory. They played well and earned it, and I’m especially not blaming the umps for the final result despite the huge cost of their egregious error. Rather, the point is that if you replayed this game at this performance level 10 more times, the A’s could win at least four or five them.
Looking at the big picture, starter Mike Fiers lasted five solid innings against the best lineup in MLB on the hottest day that baseball has ever been played at the Coliseum. The A’s lineup notched a couple hits with runners in scoring position, both of them by Matt Olson to remove any doubt that his supposed slump is over, and they also got a dinger from rookie Sean Murphy. But the Padres did slightly more, and Oakland’s bullpen showed a rare moment of weakness by allowing a couple crucial insurance runs.
Where there’s smoke, there’s Fiers
I generally don’t like to make puns referencing fire while California is actually tragically burning to the ground in real life, but I’ll choose this as my one exception.
The comment above about this being the hottest day in Coliseum history was not hyperbole. According to the telecast, the 94 degree temperature at first pitch was the highest ever for a game at the stadium, and it even went up a few degrees from there as the afternoon went on. Where I live in Walnut Creek, it got up to at least 108.
On top of that, as noted, there are still substantial wildfires raging in the greater area, and the not-uncommon smell of smoke was heavily apparent in the air through at least midday. In other words, this was not a great day for baseball, and an especially awkward one for the starting pitcher to be named Mike Fiers.
In baseball terms, the extreme heat meant this was also not ideal an ideal day for a flyball pitcher trying to keep the ball in the park against a powerful lineup. Fortunately, Fiers was up to the task.
The veteran right-hander chewed through five innings, never putting up a 1-2-3 frame but also never letting any rally get out of hand. Three singles and a sac fly led to a couple runs in the 3rd, and then a leadoff walk and a double plated another in the 4th, but in the latter case he responded by retiring the next three batters to squash the momentum and keep the game within reach.
Fiers: 5 ip, 4 Ks 2 BB, 1 HBP, 0 HR, 5 hits, 90 pitches (56 strikes)
It wasn’t quite a six-inning quality start, but considering the premium opponent and the weather conditions it was effectively the equivalent. He continues to be exactly what you want out of a sturdy No. 3/4 starter.
For the second straight day, the A’s found home plate right away in the 1st inning to take an early lead. And once again, it was Matt Olson doing the clutch hitting.
Entering this series, Olson was batting .140 over his previous dozen games. It wasn’t quite as bad as it looked, as he was still hitting the ball hard and his xwOBA was within reach of league average, but at the very least his stats were slumping. That appears to be over.
After another pair of hits on Sunday, he reached base a total of eight times in 12 plate appearances in this series, and raised his batting average 26 points along the way (still barely shy of the Mendoza Line, though). And just like on Saturday, the hits themselves were especially meaningful.
In the 1st inning, with a runner on second and two out, Olson came through by looping a liner to right for an RBI single. He answered the call again in the 3rd, with two on and one out, by ripping a grounder too hot for Eric Hosmer to handle at first base; the ball glanced off Hosmer and into right field for another RBI single. Two chances with runners in scoring position, and two missions accomplished, making him 3-for-3 in such situations in this series.
Both times, Olson drove home newcomer Tommy La Stella, who did a nice job setting the table in the leadoff spot. The second baseman went 4-for-12 in the series.
Reviewing replay: Two thumbs down
Another contributor was Robbie Grossman, who picked up a pair of hits as well. He also found himself in the middle of the most controversial play of the day.
In the 2nd inning, the switch-hitter led off with a single and then moved to third on a hit by Vimael Machin. Sean Murphy wasn’t able to drive him in, waving at some questionable offerings (and even attempting a squeeze bunt on a pitch in the dirt?) in what was frankly not a great at-bat. However, the final swinging strike came on a pitch that was spiked so hard into the ground that the catcher couldn’t handle it, and it bounced away.
Grossman took the chance and bolted for home plate. It was a close play, but pitcher Garrett Richards got the tag on and the ump called the runner out. Then it went to replay review, and as usual the A’s got hosed.
Grossman was safe. There are no two ways around it. And he was safe by such a wide margin that there was plenty of evidence to overturn the call. Somehow, the replay umps disagreed and upheld the out ruling. Simply unreal.
You be the ump: Out or Safe?— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) September 6, 2020
Grossman was called out on the field and after review pic.twitter.com/dl5Lsl375z
There’s no question that Grossman got there before the tag; even the booth umps aren’t arguing that. The explanation is that they couldn’t confirm Grossman’s foot stayed down and actually touched the plate. I don’t know how they think all that dirt sprayed up in front of his foot, starting inside the batter’s box and continuing the whole way through until the dish, but that’s the official word.
A's Robbie Grossman attempts to score at home plate as San Diego Padres pitcher Garrett Richards applies the tag in the second inning of their game at the Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Sept. 6, 2020. The umpire called Grossman out. @Athletics @Padres #RootedInOakland #oakland pic.twitter.com/Vcl7fF7tKa— Jose Carlos Fajardo (@jcfphotog) September 6, 2020
And so yet again, the A’s were robbed of a run they rightfully should have been awarded. A proper safe call also would have given Oakland a 2-0 lead and extended the inning, with the top of the lineup coming up and a runner still on base. What might have been?
Bullpen finally cracks
The A’s bullpen has spoiled us so far in 2020, putting up a performance so consistently dominant that nobody could keep it up forever. They let through a couple key runs on Sunday though, which ended up making a big difference.
Lefty ground ball machine T.J. McFarland did his usual thing in the 6th, collecting three groundouts for a quiet inning. But in the 7th, the soft grounder he induced to lead off the frame had a bit too much eyesight, and it found a hole for a single. That brought in Yusmeiro Petit to face budding superstar Fernando Tatis Jr, and the 21-year-old showed why he’s going to win an MVP someday.
I don’t usually include opponents’ highlights, but the world needs to see Tatis.
Those two runs ended up being the difference in a two-run game. If the pen puts up zeroes, then maybe it goes to extras, though Oakland’s lineup would have needed to do something eventually.
The A’s got a homer in the 7th inning too, but unfortunately there was nobody on base for theirs.
Rookie catcher Sean Murphy hasn’t made a lot of noise on the stat sheet yet, but he sure has in the literal sense with the sound of his bat. His average exit velocity is third-highest on the team, and he finally pointed it in a productive direction on Sunday.
Sean Murphy Gwen Stefani— Oakland A's (@Athletics) September 6, 2020
No doubt pic.twitter.com/zHwnV0sdbt
That’s 422 feet of pure thump, though unfortunately only his third of the year. Still, look out for this guy in 2021 and beyond.
Add it up, an this was a generally even game. The A’s rallied for a run, then rallied for another but had it stolen away. The Padres rallied for two, Oakland rallied back for one more, and San Diego rallied back for another. Then both teams homered in the 7th. The rest is details, and those details went the Padres’ way.
And now, the real fun begins. The Houston Astros are coming to town for five games in four days, or really 4.55 games if you consider how many innings they’re scheduled to play (only seven for each of the doubleheader contests). This could potentially decide the division, with Oakland currently leading by 3.5 games. The fun begins Monday at 6:00 p.m.