The Oakland A’s are doing just enough to not quite win games.
Their two-week slump continued Friday night with a 3-2 loss against the Boston Red Sox. The A’s managed to catch up in the late innings, but couldn’t quite push over the top to steal a victory.
Oakland got a pair of homers from their lineup, and lots of defensive highlights, and effectively a quality start from their rotation, and scoreless relief from their bullpen through the end of the 9th inning. But all that bought them was a ticket to extra innings, where Boston needed only one pitch to score their bonus runner in the top of the 10th while the A’s saw their own auto-runner thrown out at home plate in the bottom half.
That’s not to say the green-and-gold played well enough that they should have won this game, but they definitely could have. One of the Red Sox runs was a complete gift from Oakland’s defense, and the A’s own lineup got as far as it did despite only collecting four hits in 10 innings. Tonight’s victory was there for the taking, and it was Boston who seized it.
That’s become a familiar feeling for Oakland lately. Between their recent 10-game road trip, and the first four dates of their current homestand, a lot of winnable games have slipped through the cracks just like this one. Hopefully that’s just a brief and routine blip amid the wobbly marathon of the MLB season.
One costly mistake
Although Frankie Montas had some trouble finding the plate, he still came one out away from registering a quality start. What’s more, one of his two earned runs really should have been unearned.
The A’s got some sparkling defense from several players tonight, including multiple impressive catches by Tony Kemp in left field, but Kemp also made one costly mistake. Montas began the 4th by issuing a leadoff walk, and then the next batter hit a flare to shallow left that was sinking far too quickly to be caught. But Kemp dove for it anyway and missed, allowing the ball to skip past and the runner to score from first. When Kempin’ it real goes wrong.
The next three batters grounded out, and it’s fair to assume the run wouldn’t have scored without Kemp’s miscue. But under baseball’s nonsensical scoring rules, it’s not an error because he played it so poorly that he didn’t even touch it, so the obviously unearned run goes down as earned and the obvious single is a double. I’ve asked this a million times before, but what’s even the point of keeping stats if they aren’t based on what the players did?
But details aside, either way there was now a run on the board for Boston, and they got another in the 5th. Montas put two aboard and got a double play to ward off a rally, but allowed a two-out single to plate the runner from third. He then loaded the bases in the 6th, but escaped it with some help from the bullpen.
- Montas: 5⅔ ip, 2 “earned” runs, 3 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HBP, 5 hits, 95 pitches, 86.9 mph EV
The right-hander was in trouble most of the night, but it was as much due to his own wildness as Boston making hard contact against him, which they did a handful of times but not an excessive amount. It’s worth noting the Sox rank second in MLB in runs-per-game, so Montas’ line against them is pretty good in proper context.
First out of the pen was J.B. Wendelken, who threw one pitch to get the final out of the 6th and strand Montas’ runners. Wendelken then breezed through the 7th, while Jake Diekman took the 8th and Sergio Romo the 9th, the trio combining to retire all 10 batters they faced.
The A’s lineup was even more flummoxed by Boston’s pitching. They notched just one hit off starter Eduardo Rodriguez through six innings, and they didn’t score until the bullpen entered in the 7th. Jed Lowrie did the honors against the team that drafted him back in 2005, drilling a solo homer to cut the Sox lead to 2-1.
Early preview to tonight's fireworks show pic.twitter.com/kzQiNheGTo— Oakland A's (@Athletics) July 3, 2021
That was all until the 9th. Closer Matt Barnes came in to finish it, but Oakland had other ideas.
This was the A’s 84th game of the season, and new shortstop Elvis Andrus has batted in 79 of them. He’d come to the plate 291 times before this inning, and despite heating up lately he was still searching for his first dinger of the year. In his 292nd plate appearance he finally found it, and he picked an incredible moment to deliver.
ELVIS HAS LEFT THE BUILDING AND TIED THE GAME pic.twitter.com/OqeZiLdhzt— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) July 3, 2021
The only thing more dramatic than a game-tying homer in the 9th would have been if there was somebody on base to make it a walk-off, but unfortunately Andrus was leading off the frame. On the bright side, that meant there were three more chances to blast another one, but Matt Chapman and Matt Olson both struck out and pinch-hitter Mitch Moreland flew out. Still, the save was blown and the game continued. Extra innings!
All the wrong hops
The thrill of the comeback didn’t last long. One pitch, to be exact.
The 10th inning meant a free runner on second base, and closer Lou Trivino came in to strand it, just hours after being named AL Reliever of the Month for June. But on his first pitch, Enrique Hernandez doinked a blooper into shallow right, just enough to drive the runner home. Argh. Trivino followed with a double play and a strikeout, but the damage was done, and this time it did go down as unearned in the box score.
In the bottom half, the A’s got their chance with Seth Brown on second base. Lowrie grounded a sharp single to left, but Brown had to pause to let it go by and couldn’t score on the play. Then Sean Murphy popped a fly to shallow center, and Hernandez came through again with a perfect throw to the plate to nail Brown. Argh.
Both teams hit a leadoff single in the 10th, but one of them went to the right spot and the other didn’t. Boston hit it weakly but luckily. Oakland hit it hard and luckily enough to find a hole but unluckily enough to get in the way of their own runner, and then their subsequent sac fly attempt was five feet to shallow. There’s no accounting for bad hops.
You might wonder why Brown was the choice to enter for defense in the top of the 10th and thus as the runner in the bottom half, especially when Skye Bolt was also available. According to Statcast, Brown has the fastest 90-foot running time on the roster, though Bolt himself hasn’t played enough to register so we can’t compare them directly. Bolt has the better one-second top-speed sprint time, but that doesn’t always hold up for 90 feet, and Brown’s splits suggest he’s got one of the best first steps on the team and he stays at full gear throughout.
Brown was tagged while sliding, so even one extra step of speed might have made the difference, but it’s not clear whether Bolt would have provided it.
Kemp had a great day in the field other than his one critical whoopsie. Here was a nifty catch in foul territory, with a jump for style points.
Incredible catch by Tony Kemp at the wall pic.twitter.com/D8w8JCwrfO— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) July 3, 2021
In the 7th he made an even better running catch, this time to rob Hernandez of extra bases. At its exit velocity and launch angle this batted ball only falls for a hit 4% of the time, but this perfect placement in the corner should have been part of that fluke four percent if not for Kemp’s effort.
And how about a classic 3-6-3 double play from Gold Glove first baseman Olson, with an assist from Andrus at shortstop?
Of course Chapman also made some nice plays at third base, and Ramon Laureano ran down a couple tough balls in center field. All they needed to do was try a little bit less hard on that one squib hit in the 4th inning.
The A’s aren’t playing badly overall but also aren’t doing what it takes to win. Just one more of anything on offense, just one more play on defense, just one fewer annoying single by the opponent, is all it would have taken. Oakland was coming up with those plays earlier this year, and the sooner they can get back to it the better.