The Oakland A’s have experienced strikeout problems lately, but on Tuesday night at the Coliseum they got all the contact they needed. Unfortunately, too much of it landed in gloves rather than on the turf.
The A’s fell behind early and did everything they could to come back, but ultimately lost 4-3 to the Seattle Mariners. On multiple occasions it appeared they’d hammered the deep drive they needed, but each time the Mariners outfield made a spectacular catch to rob them.
Seattle took an early lead against A’s starter Cole Irvin, with help from some fortunate hops — and perhaps the absence of Matt Chapman at third base, as he got the day off and was replaced by Chad Pinder.
With two on and no out in the 1st inning, Pinder fielded a routine grounder and opted to force out the lead runner at third instead of going around the horn for a double play attempt. The next batter was retired but the runners advanced, and after that came another grounder to Pinder’s left. He made a diving effort to knock it down, but couldn’t recover in time to get the out at first, allowing a run to score and the inning to continue. Another single plated a second run.
Neither of these were bad plays by Pinder, but Chapman makes incredible superhuman plays, and it’s easy to imagine this being a scoreless frame with the two-time Platinum Glover maximizing just one of those two defensive chances.
To Pinder’s credit, he ended up doing a fine job at 3B tonight, and even had a couple of highlights. He snared a liner to his right to save a double in the 2nd inning, and later he made a Chapman-esque play fielding a grounder to his right that required him to make the throw from foul territory. The super-sub has generally received negative metrics for his infield work (and positive in the outfield), but he’s racked up several impressive moments at 2B and 3B in the past week.
After falling behind early, the A’s answered back quickly. Matt Olson led off the 2nd inning with a double, and Jed Lowrie doubled him in.
Lowrie waited on second base while the next two batters were retired, and then Tony Kemp came through with a single to drive him in and tie the score.
Kemp is quietly one of the hottest players on the A’s, providing several clutch efforts on both sides of the ball lately. In terms of pure numbers he’s 5-for-11 over his last few games, with a double, triple, homer, two walks, two RBI, and four runs scored. His OBP for the season is now a robust .392, and his wRC+ is at 129, which is 37 points above his career mark.
The score remained knotted until the 4th, when the key tiebreaking hit came off the bat of a catcher named Murphy. Sadly it wasn’t Sean, but rather Seattle’s Tom Murphy, who delivered a booming RBI double. He was later driven in too, putting the Mariners ahead 4-2.
Defense beats offense
The frustrating thing about the previous night’s loss was how the A’s star hitters all struck out when the game was on the line, including five of the final six batters of the game. That wasn’t the problem tonight. Oakland made all the contact they needed to, but Seattle’s defense unleashed even better plays to stop them.
In the 5th, the A’s got two runners on with one out. Ramon Laureano lined a rocket to deep center, which looked certain to fall for a game-tying double, but 2020 Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis tracked it down for a spectacular running catch at the warning track. Statcast says that piece of contact falls for a hit 77% of the time.
They got another chance in the 8th. Laureano hit another liner to center and this one did land for a double, and then in typical fashion he simply willed himself home. A high pitch squirted out of (Tom) Murphy’s glove, giving Laureano a chance to break for third, and then Murphy airmailed a throw into left field. Laureano trotted home to cut the deficit to one run.
Oakland wasn’t done. Olson walked, and then Sean Murphy got his turn to take a mighty swing, just as Tom had done for Seattle earlier. Sean got 100 mph of exit velocity behind his drive and sent it on a trajectory to the wall in right-center, but deja vu struck at the worst moment as RF Mitch Haniger came racing out of nowhere to pull it down.
With two outs on the board and Olson running on contact, there’s no question he would have scored if that ball had fallen. For the second time, the Mariners had made an amazing catch at or near the wall to rob the game-tying extra-base hit.
What else can you do? Hit a homer I suppose, but you’re not always going to get one of those. If blasting the ball to the wall multiple times with runners on base isn’t enough to score, then maybe it’s just not your day.
The A’s made enough mistakes to lose this game. They also played well enough to win. Monday’s loss was a bummer that revealed long-term problems to solve. Tonight was a shrug emoji. Put Chapman on defense in the 1st inning, or land just one of those deserved RBI doubles, and this is a different ballgame. In the truest sense, the Mariners won tonight more than the A’s lost.