You’ve got to be kidding.
For the second night in a row, the Oakland A’s handed the winning run to the Seattle Mariners on a wild pitch. Mariners win 5-4 on Saturday at T-Mobile Park.
You know the drill at this point. The A’s played 90% of a good game and could have won, but yadda yadda yadda they lost by one run. They’ve played 18 games in July and 10 have been decided by one run, with Oakland winning only three of them. They’re around even in that regard for the entire season at 15-17, which is perfectly fine and nothing to be alarmed about, but this month they can’t buy a fortunate hop.
For context, here are some other contenders’ records in one-run games this year: Astros (12-11), White Sox (10-12), Rays (14-14), Giants (15-13), Padres (15-16), and the juggernaut defending champion Dodgers (12-17). But you know who’s an MLB-best 22-8? The Mariners.
Losing one-run games happens, and each one will be a just-miss heartbreaker by its very definition. This too shall pass. But the problem is that they’re finding themselves in the middle of so many of them, rather than mustering a couple more big plays to put opponents away more comfortably.
Here’s that contender list again, but now just the number of one-run games they’ve played at all: A’s (32), Padres (31), Dodgers (29), Giants (28), Rays (28), Astros (23), White Sox (22). The Red Sox have played 29 but with happier results (18-11). Losing one-run games always has an element of bad luck attached, so create your own luck by not being involved in them at all.
So how did Oakland lose this time? The primary factors were Seattle’s bullpen, the bat of Mitch Haniger, a bit of help from poor umpiring, and then the wild pitch at the end.
The A’s did most of their scoring early, with a rally in the 3rd inning. Elvis Andrus sparked it with a leadoff single, and Tony Kemp notched the first RBI with a single of his own. From there they got to second and third with two out for Jed Lowrie, MLB’s best hitter with runners in scoring position, and he lived up to his reputation by swinging away on 3-0 and lining the pitch into right field for two RBI.
Lowrie is not up there to work a walk in that situation, he’s there to drive in those runs. When his pitch came, it didn’t matter that it was a 3-0 count, he grabbed the RBI that he’d come for.
The rally was enough to knock Seattle’s starting pitcher out of the game in the 3rd inning, and it looked like the A’s were in business. But then they just ... disappeared against the Mariners bullpen.
For the rest of the evening, six innings in total, they managed one hit. They also drew a walk, but it was eliminated in a double play. And they reached on a two-base error to lead off an inning but stranded the runner.
Meanwhile, Seattle mounted a successful comeback. Or more accurately, Haniger mounted a successful comeback.
Oakland ace Chris Bassitt isn’t going to make excuses (he described his outing as “Trash. Terrible.”), so I will for him. Home plate umpire Nestor Ceja screwed him over in the 1st inning, in the kind of way that makes it difficult to know if it might have affected the rest of the day.
Here’s what Bassitt was dealing with right out the gate in the opening frame of the game.
No low-inside strike. No high-outside strike. And we’re not talking about nibbling corners of the zone, we’re talking about a full ball’s width or more, not even close to touching the edge of the zone much less missing the plate in any way.
The first missed call gave Haniger a more favorable count, forcing Bassitt more over the plate where he grooved one for a double. He tried working up in the zone to Ty France but was denied, and France ended up singling for the RBI. Then he absolutely dead-to-rights struck out Luis Torrens looking on a pitch on the corner that was objectively undeniably within umpire Ceja’s zone for the rest of the night, but he didn’t get the call and had to waste five more pitches getting Torrens out.
Maybe that inning, and indeed the rest of the game, would have gone exactly the same with a good umpire behind the plate. But Bassitt threw 32 pitches and this was his mindset afterward.
Chris Bassitt was NOT happy after a 32-pitch bottom of the first pic.twitter.com/I5t8pHQ83g— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) July 25, 2021
As usual, the point here isn’t that anybody is out to get the A’s specifically. It goes the other way just as often, in Oakland’s favor. It’s that we’re beyond any reasonable shred of a possible doubt that the human eye can’t call balls and strikes accurately enough anymore. This isn’t up for debate. Here’s what it looks like when a person tries to do it.
That’s below the standard of multi-billion-dollar professional baseball. Just gotta do better than that. There can’t be multiple blue dots just smack in the middle of that zone, and the corners can’t be a coin-flip but rather must be consistent one way or other. There needs to be a strike zone and it needs to stay the same for at least that one entire game or else what the hell are we all doing here. Ceja failed miserably.
Put it all together and the bad umpiring favored the Mariners by 0.48 runs in a game that was decided be one run. I don’t want to win games this way either, so let’s fix it with technology that literally already exists in every stadium.
Even with that extra dose of malarkey early in the evening, Bassitt found himself with a 3-1 lead entering the bottom of the 3rd. But
Seattle Haniger would not go down quietly, and he drilled the first pitch he saw over the CF wall. Ramon Laureano nearly made the most amazing catch in history, scaling the wall and holding himself up there for several moments, but the ball fell just out of his reach.
It landed in the blue hat just to the left of his glove in that photo.
In the 5th, Haniger did it again. This time there was a runner on base, so the two-run homer gave the Mariners the lead.
- Bassitt: 5 ip, 4 runs, 6 Ks, 3 BB, 2 HR, 5 hits, 101 pitches, 92.5 mph EV
He basically dominated everybody except Haniger. Jake Bauers hit it hard a couple times too, but if Ceja calls a professional 1st inning and Ramon pulls down that catch then Bassitt earns the win.
The A’s fought back with a solo homer of their own by Aramis Garcia to tie it up, but as mentioned earlier, that was their only hit of the final six innings.
That brings us to the fateful 9th inning. Oakland’s bullpen was holding serve as Deolis Guerra and Sergio Romo breezed through three scoreless frames to keep the score tied 4-4. Lou Trivino entered in the 9th to try to hold it and force extra innings, and all he had to do was face the 6-7-8-9 batters in a bad lineup.
It went wrong almost immediately. The leadoff batter singled. Jarred Kelenic, sporting an .099 batting average, drew a four-pitch walk. One out later, Bauers walked to load the bases. Trivino induced a grounder to earn a forceout at home plate, but it wasn’t hit hard enough to complete a double play.
That brought Haniger to the plate. With the bases loaded, and more importantly the walk-off run on third base. Perhaps he would have gotten the job done anyway, since he’d already been involved in every other run tonight — he scored the first one, then drove in the next three. But for this final one he didn’t even need to lift the bat off his shoulder.
Trivino went with a curveball on the first pitch, but he missed his spot by a mile and skipped it past the catcher Garcia. The wild pitch went to the backstop, and the winning run scored.
Welp. Trivino has been excellent this year as the closer. He should have been an All-Star but was snubbed. Even the best have a bad night. When you’re constantly playing in tied games day after day, every little imperfection costs you a win.
In other words, Trivino issued the walks and threw the wild pitch that scored the walk-off run. But the A’s lineup lost this game, full stop, by going silent for six innings against a bad Seattle bullpen. That’s where you should be assigning blame.
Another one-run loss. The opponent was spotted a bonus half-run by the umpires, the A’s missed robbing a homer by inches, and the winning run came on a wild pitch. Even with Oakland’s disappointing bats, this was still a winnable game if you eliminate even one of those bad hops.
Each one of these losses counts, but I’m still waiting to see one that gives me something new to actually worry about long-term. The lineup has been one or two hitters short all year, we already knew that and there’s a trade deadline coming up to address it. The bullpen can use one more top arm but that’s not why they lost tonight. And they’re capable of winning close games, no matter how discouraging it is to see this rash of bad results.
Just don’t blow so many of these that Seattle or the Yankees pass them in the Wild Card standings. Once you get to October, maybe it’ll be nice to have banked so much experience in dramatic one-run affairs.
Bob Melvin on A's offense: "One hit after the third is not ideal. Whether it’s making guys throw more pitches and maybe draw a walk or be less aggressive, our at-bats need to be a little bit better so we take a little pressure off the pitchers to where they have to be perfect.”— Martín Gallegos (@MartinJGallegos) July 25, 2021