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Game #121: A’s lose a winnable game

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1-for-12 with runners in scoring position

Oakland Athletics v Chicago White Sox Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s really could have used a win Wednesday night, but following the theme of their 2021 season, they fell one play short.

The A’s had all the ingredients they needed right in front of them but couldn’t quite put it all together, losing 3-2 to the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.

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

After last night’s scary injury to Chris Bassitt, Oakland called on Paul Blackburn to make a spot start tonight. The right-hander delivered his best performance since 2018, working into the 6th inning and keeping the team squarely in the game.

Unfortunately the A’s lineup only managed two runs of their own. They put together two prime rallies in the first three innings against White Sox ace starter Lance Lynn, but squandered both of them. Lynn was ejected after the 4th inning, but Chicago’s bullpen held on for five more frames. And then we got to watch former Oakland closer Liam Hendriks record a five-out save against his old teammates, as if this week hadn’t sucked enough already.

The stat that best sums up the evening was the A’s going 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position. What’s worse, even the one hit didn’t result in an RBI, merely pushing a runner from second to third.

Oakland had their chances against Lynn. Mark Canha led off the game with a walk and moved to second on a wild pitch, then Starling Marte singled and stole second. They were on second and third with nobody out! But Matt Olson struck out, and Jed Lowrie struck out, and Josh Harrison grounded out, and nobody scored. They weren’t even bad at-bats, with nine pitches for Olson and eight for Lowrie, but it’s still zero runs in the box score.

They threatened again in the 3rd inning. Canha led off with a double, then Marte hit a rocket grounder that ate up the shortstop for an error. They were on first and third with nobody out! And then Olson walked to load the bases! But Lowrie struck out again despite working a tough nine-pitch at-bat, and Harrison struck out, and the recently hot Matt Chapman popped out, and nobody scored.

In the 4th inning, Seth Brown came up with nobody on base and hit a solo homer.

What can you do? Lowrie is one of the best in the majors at coming through in those RISP situations, except for today when he wasn’t, and it’s not like he got overpowered considering it took 17 pitches to retire him twice. Olson and Harrison are among the MLB leaders in not striking out ever, except for today when they did at the worst moments. And when they finally got the big hit, from Brown, it was sequenced to inflict the least possible damage.

The A’s got a gift after the 4th inning. When they couldn’t knock out Lynn themselves, the umps did it for them, ejecting him for throwing his belt during a foreign-substance check. The American League ERA leader was out of the game.

Lynn’s response, regarding whether he expected to get ejected for his behavior: “No, he’s late getting over there. I’m trying to get some work done to go back out for the fifth and obviously I hurt his feelings.”

But the departure of Lynn didn’t help, as Chicago’s bullpen held serve the rest of the way. In the 5th, Olson walked and Lowrie grounded into a double play, continuing his nightmare evening. In the 6th a leadoff single was stranded.

The Sox offered up another gift in the 7th, misplaying a lineout into a leadoff “triple” for Elvis Andrus. This time the A’s took advantage, as Starling Marte drove him home with a sac fly, but even that free run wasn’t enough for Oakland to catch up. By the end of that inning they’d stranded two more runners.

In the 8th they built another rally, with singles from two of the first three batters. But then Chicago called on Hendriks, who quickly escaped the jam and then struck out the side in the 9th to end it — first Marte, then Olson, and finally Lowrie yet again for the final out of the night.

Overall, they left 11 runners on base tonight. But individually, counting up every LOB in every at-bat (and thus some runners multiple times), they left 31 opportunities on base.

Blackburn spot

Despite the lack of offense, the A’s stayed close thanks to a solid effort by Blackburn.

The right-hander allowed his share of hard contact, but he kept things under control and came close to a quality start. The Sox scored in the 1st on a couple of hard hits, but the whole thing was sparked by a bunt single and he didn’t let it extend into a crooked number. He breezed through the 2nd and 3rd, and in the 4th he beat himself with a couple walks but otherwise only gave up a groundball single for an RBI.

  • Blackburn: 5⅓ ip, 3 runs, 3 Ks, 3 BB, 5 hits, 75 pitches, 87.8 mph EV

Not perfect, and nobody expected him to be. But he held his own against a tough MLB lineup, and it could have been enough to win a game if he’d gotten any support from his teammates.

The deciding run came in the 6th. A sharp single and a walk put two on with one out, and Sergio Romo was called from the bullpen. His first pitch was a hanging slider for an RBI single. Then he promptly retired five of his next six batters, including three strikeouts.

Stop bringing in Romo to escape jams! Use him to start a clean inning! He’s the worst in the bullpen at stranding inherited runners, with 50% of them coming around to score this year, and he’s been consistently terrible at it since 2016. Romo is an excellent reliever and belongs in a key setup role for Oakland, but this one thing he’s bad at, so for goodness sake stop asking him to do it.

Add it up, and Blackburn’s three runs were a bunt single that came around to score, a walk that came around to score, and a rally he didn’t get the chance to work out of because the wrong reliever came in to give it up on his behalf.

Not bad at all.

Sigh

Still tied for a Wild Card spot. Still just 2.5 games out of the division lead. But a win tonight sure would have felt cooler.

The starting rotation kept rolling somehow. The lineup kept getting on base. Lowrie will never be this bad again, because he didn’t suddenly stop being good. Not all homers will be solo forever. The team’s season-long bases-loaded futility is a statistical fluke. But a win tonight sure would have felt cooler.

All the ingredients are still there for a playoff run. Can the A’s put them together in time?