The Oakland A’s opened their 2021 season on Thursday, beginning a full-length campaign after last year’s shortened schedule.
The A’s were quiet in their Opening Day 8-1 loss to the Houston Astros, but the fans at the Coliseum certainly weren’t.
After being locked out of the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic, more than 10,000 fans were allowed to attend the game at the Coliseum, with a maximum capacity around one-quarter of normal. In addition to the rush of being back at the ballpark at all, there was the extra treat of seeing the despised Astros in the visiting dugout.
The whole country has been waiting an entire extra year for their chance to boo the Asterisks over their cheating scandal, and A’s fans got first dibs. They didn’t waste the opportunity.
These fans waited an extra year to boo the Astros. pic.twitter.com/pjlNuRsGgn— Janie McCauley (@JanieMcCAP) April 2, 2021
They got booed during pregame intros, they got booed before their at-bats, and they got booed when stuff generally happened. An entire nation lived vicariously through the green-and-gold faithful.
Unfortunately, that fan reaction was the loudest thing that happened against the Astros in this game, as the A’s themselves stayed mostly quiet throughout. There were a couple highlights, but Houston maintained control from start to finish.
Oakland only threatened once against Astros ace starter Zack Greinke. He retired his first eight batters but then allowed a two-out double to Elvis Andrus in the 3rd inning, and Andrus moved to third base on a wild pitch, but he was soon stranded there. Twice more the A’s reached first base against Greinke, but both times they bounced into double plays.
There was more noise than that against Houston’s bullpen, but still only one run to show for it. Ramon Laureano led off the 7th inning and should have popped out in foul territory, but Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel plain missed it. Laureano responded by ripping a double on the next pitch, and then stealing third against a sleepy Houston defense. Two batters later, Matt Chapman lofted a sac fly to plate the run.
On one hand, it was great to see the A’s capitalize on mistakes. On the other, it’s too bad that the only run they scored was unearned.
After stranding two more runners in the 7th after Chapman’s RBI, Oakland put two more on in the 8th thanks to more Astros whoopsies. This time it was third baseman Alex Bregman failing to convert on a swinging bunt, and then second baseman Jose Altuve getting lazy on a mostly routine grounder. But Matt Olson watched Strike 3 to end the rally, or at least, a pitch that was called Strike 3 by the umpire. Note that the tweet below is by an Astros beat writer.
Sheesh, he had a point. Pitch 5 was called the third strike on Matt Olson. pic.twitter.com/vZEs6wANmm— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) April 2, 2021
To be fair, home plate ump Brian Gorman was calling about an extra foot on just that side of the plate for both teams, but sometimes calls are so bad that proper consistency still can’t fully excuse them. And he wasn’t that hot on his high/low calls either.
Once again in the 9th, the A’s got two runners on, and once again they were stranded. They put together six hits, three walks, and a HBP, plus some extra bases from errors, but they left seven of their 10 runners on and saw two more wiped out in GIDPs. Oakland went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
The pitching side wasn’t much better. It started fine, with Chris Bassitt breezing through three innings and then escaping a jam in the 4th with just one run. But in the 6th he got chased by a rally, and Yusmeiro Petit let both inherited runners score.
Bassitt: 5⅓ ip, 3 runs, 3 Ks, 2 BB, 1 HBP, 4 hits, 68 pitches
He benefited from a couple loud outs but kept the hard contact within reason, and perhaps later in the season (when everyone is more stretched out) he might have been allowed to keep working in the 6th rather than getting such an early hook.
Soon after, the wheels fell off. Lou Trivino tossed a scoreless 7th, but Adam Kolarek had almost the polar opposite experience in the 8th. The new acquisition allowed homers to the first two batters he faced in an A’s uniform (Michael Brantley and Bregman), then got an out, then issued a walk and a HBP before being pulled. That’s mathematically one of the worst outings a pitcher can have, on a per-batter basis.
The 9th brought one more A’s debut, as lefty Reymin Guduan mopped up the mess. He loaded the bases with his first three batters and let them all score, but he did eventually finish the inning and the game.
But wait, I promised you highlights! They came on defense.
First we had Chapman, announcing that he’s back to his two-time Platinum Glove form.
Who else missed seeing Chappy make these plays at third?? pic.twitter.com/etkz49Irob— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) April 2, 2021
Then there was super-sub Chad Pinder, lining up in RF because that’s what the team needed tonight. He played all of four innings in the outfield last season, and only one of them in right, but he picked it back up like he was riding a bike.
In the 4th, he saved a run with a leaping catch at the wall. Then in the 5th he saved another run, this time diving to his left for a sinking liner that would have gone into the corner. Both plays are in the video below.
Before the game I wrote about how he’s a breakout candidate at the plate, and he did go 2-for-4 with one hard single and one lucky dribble. But it was his glove that stood out in the season opener, as a reminder of the vast numbers of ways he can impact a game.
Pinder starts wearing No. 4 and all of a sudden he's Coco Crisp.— Martín Gallegos (@MartinJGallegos) April 2, 2021
And on top of Coco’s old number, his hair is starting to resemble Josh Reddick a bit too.
The end of the night brought one more memorable moment. Rule 5 draft pick Ka’ai Tom made his MLB debut, pinch-running in the 7th inning and then getting an at-bat in the bottom of the 9th. He grounded out to second base, but the bigger point is that he played in a major league game, with his 27th birthday approaching next month. Congrats!
Go get ‘em tomorrow!
Welp. Opening Day is fun no matter what happens in the game, but for what it’s worth, this game didn’t go well. The A’s were shut down at the plate, and got knocked around on the mound. Fortunately, the first day of the season doesn’t tell you anything meaningful about how the summer will go, and nothing has changed about Oakland’s hopes of contention.
The first game is out of the way, so brush off the result and go get ‘em tomorrow!