The Oakland A’s fell just short of sweeping the defending AL champion Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday. The very sentence is praise with only faint damning.
The A’s took an early lead in their series finale but couldn’t hold on in a 4-3 loss to the Rays, with an unearned run making the difference in the final tally. Oakland still won the weekend series, and had already clinched the season series against a fellow postseason contender.
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The day got off to a promising start, as the A’s got on the board first. Tampa Bay rookie Shane McClanahan kept Oakland’s lineup quiet for a while, but the second time through the order they broke through, just as they’d done when they faced the high-octane lefty a couple weeks ago.
With two outs in the 4th inning, a rally brewed. Matt Chapman, who had homered off McClanahan in April at Tropicana Field, squared one up again and lined a single. Seth Brown worked a tough walk despite the platoon disadvantage against the southpaw, and then Stephen Piscotty found turf with a bloop to score Chapman.
Piscotty makes that 1 pic.twitter.com/mgIA63OrJ6— Oakland A's (@Athletics) May 9, 2021
Next up was Mitch Moreland, and he hit one hard the other way to beat the shift and plate two more.
️ KEEP IT GOING MITCH!#RallyBuds | @budweiserusa pic.twitter.com/qjtx9zr9pP— Oakland A's (@Athletics) May 9, 2021
Elvis Andrus almost kept it going, but his 97.7 mph liner to the outfield found a glove instead of a gap.
Unfortunately, that was all they got the rest of the day, as the Rays bullpen kept them quiet. The 6th brought a single but a GIDP, the 7th had a two-out “triple” by Andrus (more like a bloop single and a bad choice by the defender), and the 8th saw two runners reach base but Matt Olson was thrown out at third trying to advance on a pitch that wasn’t quite wild enough — or rather, he hesitated too long before deciding to run, and that made the difference.
Brah, so pesky
The legend of Cole Irvin has been growing by the week. The lefty strung together a few promising starts, with good results but questions in his peripheral stats, and then he answered those questions with a gem in his most recent outing.
He nearly did it again on Sunday. After a leadoff single on his first pitch of the game, he retired the next 12 batters in order, with only two of them hitting it particularly hard.
But then, the Rays got an opening and took full advantage of it. Leading off the 5th, Irvin induced a popup from Mike Brosseau just a couple feet in front of home plate. It should have been an easy out, but catcher Sean Murphy lost track of it and clanked the catch, and since it happened in fair territory Brosseau was able to scamper to first base.
That play didn’t have to matter, but whatever spell Irvin had cast all day had been broken. The next batter doubled, then two batters later Willy Adames lined a homer over the wall in right field. Just like that, the game was tied, thanks to a defensive miscue and two pieces of quality contact.
The homer was especially tough. Off the bat it looked like it might be a sharp sac fly, and then when the camera angle shifted to the outfield it looked like it might make it to the wall. But it kept carrying and barely cleared the fence in the corner, the very definition of a wallscraper. Still counts, and that piece of contact is at least a hit 90% of the time per Statcast, but it’s a deflating way to lose a lead.
In the 6th, Brosseau struck again, this time with a solo homer to put the Rays ahead 4-3. This one was a no-doubter, nearly 400 feet into the LF bleachers.
- Irvin: 6 ip, 4 runs (3 earned), 3 Ks, 1 BB, 2 HR, 4 hits, 82 pitches, 88.9 mph EV
It still goes down as a quality start, and he certainly kept his team in the game. His run of 12 straight outs was especially encouraging, as he took over for nearly half the day and mowed through several innings.
Many days this line will produce a win, and with more fortunate sequencing it could have been a two-run day. But when you allow multiple homers in a day it can go like this, especially when you’re not racking up strikeouts and/or the defense makes an ill-timed mistake.
Oakland’s lineup wasn’t able to mount a final comeback in the late innings, but the A’s bullpen at least gave them the chance by keeping the score close. Sergio Romo pitched the 7th, and Burch Smith covered the 8th and 9th, perfect all the way through, nine up, nine down, with five strikeouts combined.
For Smith, it was his first appearance since early April, after a stint on the injured list with a strained groin, and he reached 97.1 mph on the radar. For Romo, it was a welcome sight after he appeared to hurt his leg in his previous outing — he struck out the side in 15 pitches, none of them above 86.1 mph.
Taking care of business
The A’s didn’t quite pull off the sweep today, but if they had it would have just been a bonus. They already won this series and proved they can compete with the contending Rays, and they already secured the season series by taking four of seven games. That last part is a nice feather in the cap against the defending AL champs, and it also could come into play in September as a tiebreaker if they’re competing against each other for Wild Card spots.
This also marks the merciful end of 17 straight days with games, with an off-day Monday. As they head out on the road, Oakland is 21-15, and first place in the AL West.
May 9, 2021