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Game #81: Two homers in 9th inning not enough for A’s to catch Rangers

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Texas is becoming a pesky trap-game opponent

Texas Rangers v Oakland Athletics
Jonah Heim helped beat his old team
Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s mounted the comeback they were looking for in the bottom of the 9th inning on Tuesday, but unfortunately it was too little too late.

The A’s found themselves down three runs in the final frame and slugged two solo homers, which weren’t quite enough to catch the Texas Rangers in a 5-4 final in their series opener at the Coliseum. Making the result more frustrating was that the Rangers themselves had scored two insurance runs in the top of the 9th, which turned out to make the difference.

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

The pitching side featured a rematch of starters James Kaprielian and Mike Foltynewicz, who faced each other last week in Arlington, and once again they were both quality. However, Folty got the better end of the duel this time, and by the end of six innings Texas led 3-2.

Oakland’s bullpen kept it close until the top of the 9th, but reliever Domingo Acevedo served up a two-run homer. Suddenly the Rangers had a cushion to work with, up three runs instead of just one, and it came in handy right away in the bottom of the inning. Jed Lowrie and Mitch Moreland both launched dingers, and without the extra runs in the top of the 9th, they could have been game-tying and walk-off blasts by the A’s veteran hitters. Instead, it was an artistic reenactment of 2002 ALDS Game 5.

More details coming, probably, including highlights and stuff. Dunno, it took me two hours of staring at the screen just to put this together. Keep hitting refresh though!

OK here are some highlights and details.

On the pitching side, Kaprielian came out hot, striking out five of his first seven batters. The Rangers finally got to him in the 4th with a solo homer by Joey Gallo, and then they put together some hard contact in the 5th but in signature fashion he bore down and reduced the damage. That frame was led off with a single by former A’s prospect Eli White, then an RBI double by another former A’s prospect Jonah Heim, and then another single, but the rally didn’t extend as Kaprielian retired the next three batters in order.

However, he went back out for the 6th inning with the score tied and Gallo due up, and once again Gallo went deep.

  • Kaprielian: 6 ip, 3 runs, 6 Ks, 0 BB, 2 HR, 6 hits, 105 pitches, 91.1 mph EV

That’s still a quality start, both in terminology and in spirit. You’ll win a lot of games with that line. It’s also his first start with zero walks issued.

That said, it’s fair to question whether Kaprielian should have stayed in for the 6th inning. He was showing warning signs in the 5th was entering the third time through the lineup, against a slugger who had already beaten him once today. While watching live, I had already assumed the bullpen would come in for the 6th and was surprised when they didn’t, and honestly a little worried for him to face Gallo again, which turned out to be prescient. Normally I feel like the A’s pull their starters a bit too early if anything, but this time the hook might have been appropriate an inning before it came.

In the meantime, Oakland’s lineup made some noise early but couldn’t keep it up. Matt Chapman smoked a homer 420 feet to left field in the 1st inning. He’s got a 141 wRC+ in the month of June, with at least slight improvement in his season-long strikeout issues.

The A’s got another run in the 4th, though it could have been more. With Lowrie on first and one out, Ramon Laureano lined a hit to left field that skipped past the outfielder White, sending Lowrie chugging all the way home and Laureano to third base. However, the next two batters struck out to leave him stranded 90 feet away from making the Rangers fully pay for their miscue. They got a run out of the inning, but had the reasonable chance for two.

That missed opportunity came back to haunt them when Texas tied it up in the 5th (on Heim’s double) and took the lead in the 6th (on Gallo’s second homer). But the margin stayed within one run, thanks to relievers Sergio Romo in the top of the 7th and J.B. Wendelken in the top of the 8th — for Wendelken, his first appearance since coming off a two-month injured list stint.

In the 9th, Oakland handed the ball to the rookie Acevedo, for his second career MLB outing, and it didn’t work out. Acevedo allowed two more runs, which turned out to be just enough to put the game out of reach.

Lowrie led off the bottom of the 9th. Dinger.

Two batters later, Moreland came up against his old Rangers club. Dinger.

That could have been Moreland’s third walk-off of the season, if only the bullpen had held serve. Instead, it was too little, too late.

One more light quibble with the pitching decisions. I wonder if, rather than using the entire closing crew every time they have a four-run lead, they should instead put a bigger emphasis on holding this type of one-run deficit? This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the middle relievers blow open a still-winnable game before it needed to be lost.

Maybe, after Romo and Wendelken did their jobs, the move could have been a higher-leverage arm to keep things locked down in the 9th to give the lineup one more chance? After all, this A’s core is kind of famous for putting together lots of walk-off rallies at the last minute, so it’s not a complete pipe-dream goal to put resources toward. Acevedo could have given up that homer with a four-run lead and Oakland still would have won. What if they’d taken tonight’s 9th inning one-run deficit more seriously?

Still better than getting blown out

It might hurt more emotionally to lose a heartbreaker like this then to get blown out, but it’s an important consolation when you have your sights set on being a winning team again any day now.

This was the same story as the annoying road trip of the last couple weeks. All the ingredients were there for a win, from a quality start to some power by the offense. Even two of the three relievers were good, and the one who blinked was the brand-new rookie lotto ticket. That’s not exactly damning, especially when everybody already knows bullpen depth is the team’s top need and it’s the most fixable part of a roster midseason. And even when I question one of manager Bob Melvin’s move, I still trust him overall.

These losses wouldn’t hurt so much if we didn’t know the A’s were good enough to win them. If they keep doing this many things well, they’ll start winning them again.