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Game #24: A’s come close but fall 4-3 to Rays

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The umps finished the job they started last night

Oakland Athletics v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s didn’t quite muster enough for a late comeback on Tuesday, but even in defeat they showed a few encouraging signs.

The A’s dropped a 4-3 decision to the Tampa Bay Rays, scoring one in the 9th inning but coming up just short against the defending AL champions. And for the second straight night, the umpires played a role in the final tally,

*** Game Thread #1 | Game Thread #2 ***

One of tonight’s positive takeaways was Oakland starter Frankie Montas, who rebounded from a disaster outing last week to post a quality effort against the Rays.

A leadoff triple in the 1st inning came around to score, but even that sequence was helped along with an error by a backup infielder. From there the right-hander navigated through whatever trouble came along, making big pitches when needed and keeping hard contact to a minimum and stranding seven runners along the way.

However, in the 6th inning Tampa Bay finally broke through, with a little bit of help. With a runner on first and two out, Montas delivered this 1-2 pitch to Brett Phillips:

Images: NBCS broadcast and Baseball Savant

It was called Ball 2. On the next pitch Montas missed in the middle of the zone, and the No. 9 hitter belted it over the fence for a two-run homer.

Last night the umps robbed the A’s of a run with a blown replay call, but it didn’t end up mattering as Oakland won anyway. Tonight they gave the Rays an extra chance and Tampa Bay capitalized.

I don’t find myself quite as upset about this one. To begin, I’m accustomed to seeing that high strike not get called, and while I agree that it was firmly within the zone, it’s not like it was right down broadway. A robot would have called it, and I would have called it, but a human MLB ump often doesn’t. I was disappointed but not shocked.

Furthermore, this isn’t a case like we’ve seen earlier this year, where an A’s hitter was rung up on an even higher pitch two innings earlier and the inconsistency was maddening. They just weren’t calling a high strike tonight apparently. There were an extra six inches on both sides, but nothing this high got called all night. In fact, Tampa Bay got squeezed even harder up in the zone. (The Phillips non-call is the blue dot all alone in the upper-right corner of the A’s Pitcher chart.)

Images: Baseball Savant

I get why folks are mad about this one. Heck, I’ve been as critical of umpires as anybody this season. But I file it more under “stuff happens.” Montas still made a mistake on the next pitch, so this call didn’t need to matter if he’d made a better offering to Phillips on 2-2, unlike last night when the botched replay directly erased a run. If you already want robot umps then this is another example of why, and if you prefer the human element then this is what it looks like.

  • Montas: 6 ip, 3 runs, 5 Ks, 2 BB, 1 HR, 6 hits, 105 pitches, 87.7 mph EV

The Rays added a key insurance run in the 7th, and this time they fully earned it with several pieces of hard contact against reliever J.B. Wendelken. Then, and I’m not making this up, Reymin Guduan threw a scoreless inning in the 8th.

Wave hangover

No lineup can stay blistering hot forever, and it doesn’t help switching from Tigers and Orioles pitchers to the perpetually excellent Rays staff. And even then, the A’s hitters almost got it done for the second night in a row after a slim 2-1 victory in the series opener.

Oakland got runners into scoring position twice in the first six innings, and they never got the big hit they needed to cap the rallies. But they still scored a run each time, because they at least made contact instead of striking out over and over.

In the 2nd they loaded the bases with nobody out. You’d like to turn that into a crooked number, but you can’t afford to get zero out of it. Vimael Machin came up and at least put the bat on the ball, nothing but a weak groundout to first base, but it was enough to bring a run home for the first RBI of his MLB career. Sure it could have gone worse, like a forceout at the plate or even a double play, but if he’d struck out then there would have been no chance of success. The next two batters got out, so it’s a good thing Machin banked one of those runners.

In the 6th, Matt Olson doubled to start things off. He moved to third on a wild pitch, and two batters later Mitch Moreland lofted a routine flyout to center. Sac fly, run scored, mission accomplished. Sure you’d like to mix in some extended rallies too, but you won’t always get those. A leadoff double didn’t go to waste even though they never got another hit in the inning.

It might seem small and insignificant in the context of a loss, but that is the kind of little thing that wins you playoff games. It’s the kind of thing this team hasn’t always done in the past when they’ve needed to, including in the playoffs. And it meant that they entered the 9th inning trailing 4-2 instead of 4-0.

They made it halfway back. Sean Murphy was last night’s hero, with a two-run homer to account for all of the A’s scoring, and he went yard again tonight. Unfortunately there was nobody on base this time, leading off the 9th, so it only cut the deficit to 4-3 instead of tying it or taking the lead.

That is the longest homer (454 feet) and the second-hardest-hit ball (112.8 mph exit velocity) of Oakland’s season so far. They only hit two dingers farther than that in 2020, and both were by Murphy. The last A’s hitter to top it was Olson in 2018 (475).

But the next three batters went down in order, including two strikeouts, and the A’s settled for a narrow loss and the consolation that, while not perfect, they did play well enough to win.

Get it back tomorrow

When you go on the road to visit a top contender for four games, you’re happy if you leave with a split. That’s where the A’s are at halfway through this series, with a 1-1 record and a tied run differential, and that’s with all the close calls going against them so far. A win tonight would have been cooler, but it’s tough not to be excited to see what tomorrow brings.

P.S. Extreme defensive shifts don’t work.