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Game #56: A’s come back, force extras, take lead, lose anyway

A fun but frustrating game on Memorial Day

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s almost stole one on Monday, but they gave it right back at the last moment.

The A’s came back from an early deficit to force extra innings and then took the lead in the 10th, but couldn’t hold on and dropped a 6-5 heartbreaker to the Seattle Mariners. In the bottom of the bonus frame, Seattle stormed back and capitalized on an Oakland error to plate the walk-off run.

*** Click here to revisit today’s Game Thread! ***

This was a weird day from the very beginning. The first pitch of the game pegged Mark Canha for a leadoff HBP, and the second pitch was tapped for a double play. Two pitches, two outs, but in the kind of bizarre sequence that leaves you wondering if it’s ever happened exactly like that before in history.

The A’s opened the scoring in the 3rd. Chad Pinder entered the afternoon in a horrendous slump, at 1-for-21 with 10 strikeouts with ghastly Statcast metrics to match, but he snapped out of it today. In his first at-bat he launched a double, then moved to third on an error, and scored on a sac fly by Tony Kemp. Pinder finished the day 3-for-4.

But the Mariners soon answered back. Rookie James Kaprielian was excellent in his first three MLB starts but battled some control issues on Monday, facing 20 batters and issuing three walks and two HBPs. He was able to work around it for three innings, but in the 4th the bill came due.

Seattle led off the frame with a pair of singles, and Kaprielian induced a double play to briefly turn the momentum back in his favor, but the right-hander wasn’t quite able to tie up the final loose end. He pegged a batter, then hung a curve to the No. 9 hitter Donovan Walton for a three-run dinger, the first homer of Walton’s MLB career.

With one swing of the bat, the game had changed. Another walk and a double brought home a fourth run, and Kaprielian was pulled.

  • Kaprielian: 3⅔ ip, 4 runs, 3 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HR, 5 hits, 81 pitches, 93.7 mph EV

Every rookie will have some bad games mixed in with the encouraging ones, and this was it for Kaprielian. He still missed some bats, but he also missed the plate too much, and when Seattle hit the ball they usually crushed it. And even with all that, it was barely a disaster at all with only four runs, and the A’s were indeed able to come back.

The comeback

The first step in a comeback is not letting the deficit grow, and that part was taken care of by long reliever Deolis Guerra.

The right-hander was the first out of the bullpen after Kaprielian was knocked out, and he retired seven straight batters to take the game through the 6th. It’s exactly what you want from a long-man, effectively finishing off Kaprielian’s start without utilizing any high-leverage arms.

After Guerra came Sergio Romo, who also polished off a 1-2-3 inning in the 7th. And while all that was going on, the A’s lineup was chipping away, plating a run in the 5th on doubles by Pinder and then Matt Olson to drive him home.

When the 8th rolled around, Oakland was still in the game thanks to the emergency efforts of their bullpen. And staying close paid off, as they rallied to tie it up.

The first two batters reached on the corners, and then the next two batters struck out with a runner on third. Argh. But then fortune smiled on the A’s, as Seattle’s reliever barely flinched his shoulder just enough to earn a balk call, sending the runner home from third.

But the balk might not have mattered in the end. On the next pitch, Sean Murphy doubled just over the glove of CF Kyle Lewis, and everybody would have scored anyway.

This was an especially satisfying way to tie the game, because last week Lewis robbed Oakland of a game-tying double at the Coliseum, on a similar play on the other side of center field.

At this point there was a managerial decision that I didn’t agree with at the time, but which worked out well. Murphy was lifted for a pinch-runner, who was then stranded on second a few moments later. I’d understand this move if it was the tying run, but with the game already tied and two outs on the board, this brief marginal speed gain was not worth the high likelihood that the game would keep going for a bit and they’d want their best catcher in there. Instead, backup Aramis Garcia took over.

The 4-4 tie held through the end of regulation, as Jake Diekman and Yusmeiro Petit each worked a scoreless inning for the A’s.

In the 10th they got their free automatic runner on second base, as per the silly new rule, and right on cue Murphy’s spot in the lineup (now occupied by .176 hitter Garcia) was due up third. The first two batters were retired, and then whaddya know, Garcia came through with a sharp grounder up the middle for an RBI single.

One catcher had tied the game, and now the other had given the A’s the lead. If they could get three more outs, they could steal this victory.

Oly Buckner

But alas, the day was not done being weird. The Mariners also got their own free runner at second in the bottom of the 10th, and Lou Trivino allowed an RBI single just as Seattle had given up. Save blown, albeit a particularly tough save and it goes down as an unearned run.

The next batter pulled a slow grounder down the 1B line, for what should have been a routine out and possibly even a double play, but it squirted past Olson and into right field.

Screenshot from NBCS broadcast

It’s tough to see the ball in that image, so I added an arrow pointing at it. Olson is a two-time Gold Glover and three-time Fielding Bible winner, and he’ll snare that grounder just about every time. Today he pulled his glove up a millisecond early and it doinked past him.

That put runners on second and third with one out, and a sac fly plated the walk-off run. It was also unearned, meaning Trivino took the blown save and the loss in a game in which he allowed one single, no unintentional walks, and no earned runs.

Told you it was a weird day.

Oh well

It’s always a bummer to lose a game after you’re leading in extra innings, but I’m having trouble thinking of reasons to be down about this one. The rookie starter had an off-day, which happens. One of the best defenders in the sport made an error at an unfortunate moment, which is the way things go sometimes.

But on the bright side, the lineup made a successful late-inning comeback, and also scored in extras. Pinder busted his slump, and Garcia got to have a cool moment. Guerra and Romo had nice days out of the pen, and the high-leverage crew did a good job despite the result.

The A’s have left a few wins on the table lately, and that’s annoying because every victory can make a difference in the standings. But at the end of May they’re still in first place atop the AL West division.