You know that feeling after a tough defeat, that if you were to go on and miss the playoffs by one game then this would be the loss that made the difference? Oakland A’s fans won’t have that problem this year, because the team has thrown away so many winnable games that it would be impossible to single out just one to blame if they don’t reach October.
It happened again Saturday. The A’s took a lead in the 1st inning, stayed in control all afternoon, and then yadda yadda yadda they lost 6-5 to the San Francisco Giants at the Coliseum.
Oakland had this game in the bag. They scored in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th innings, each time by building a rally and then successfully cashing in on it. By the end of the 4th, they were leading 5-2 and had knocked out the opponent’s All-Star starting pitcher. You simply have to finish off that victory.
But the A’s own starter suddenly fell apart and couldn’t make it out of the 5th, and their lineup went quiet for five frames instead of building on their lead to put the game away, and then their bullpen served up three homers in the final three innings. When the dust settled it was a one-run loss. Two of the Giants’ runs were walks that immediately preceded homers.
Dating back to mid-June, Oakland is 6-14 in one-run games.
There wasn’t anything specifically damning about this loss. Bullpens blow saves sometimes, and overall the A’s pen has been average or better at holding leads. The lineup did a decent job getting on base and then hustling on the paths, and they notched a couple hits with runners in scoring position. Sean Manaea had a shaky start, but we already knew he was in a slump lately, and his velocity is still normal.
The frustrating part is how often this keeps happening during a tight postseason race, playing most of a good game but coming up just barely short. The extra agonizing part is having it happen in an emotional matchup against the local Bay Area rivals. And the truly deflating part is seeing it in a statement series against the team with MLB’s best record, where the A’s could have been showcasing their ability to beat the kind of top opponents they hope to see in October.
Everything is still fine. Oakland is still in or around Wild Card position, and within reach of the AL West division, and one loss today didn’t end any hopes or dreams. But at some point they’re gonna need to stop leaving so many opportunities on the table, and start turning more of their good days into actual victories. Do it tomorrow and they can still win the series.
How it happened
It all started so well.
The A’s very first batter of the game hit a routine grounder but the Giants flubbed it for a three-base error. Their second batter, Starling Marte, doubled him in. Two batters in, they’d already scored off All-Star Kevin Gausman.
Two outs later Oakland got another gift, as Josh Harrison was hit by a pitch, and once again the A’s fully capitalized. Marte and Harrison pulled a double steal to move up to second and third, and Seth Brown, just hours after being called back up from the minors, flipped a bloop single to drive them both home.
What's the best kind of batter?— Oakland A's (@Athletics) August 21, 2021
⁽ᵇʳᵒʷⁿᶦᵉ ᵇᵃᵗᵗᵉʳ⁾ pic.twitter.com/HZ0wmU3tRt
Taking advantage of the opponent’s mistakes. Hustling on the bases. Multiple hits with runners in scoring position. Great start.
Unfortunately, San Francisco got two of those runs back quickly. In the 2nd inning, Manaea issued a leadoff walk and then served up a dinger to Kris Bryant, the Giants’ own impact trade deadline acquisition.
But Oakland kept pushing. In the 3rd they got another boost from Harrison, who came up with a runner on first and two out and delivered an RBI double.
In the 4th they rallied again. A leadoff single, a double, and a walk loaded the bases, with Marte and Matt Olson coming up. They weren’t able to drive anybody in, but in the meantime Guasman uncorked a wild pitch to score the lead runner. The A’s didn’t technically come through here, but they still set the table and got a run out of it.
By this point it was 5-2, and Oakland’s new hitters were once again leading the way. Marte been the centerpiece of the opening rally, and he’s the “first A’s player to steal 15 bases in a 21 game span since Rickey Henderson in 1992” according to MLB Stats. Harrison had reached base twice, scored a run, and driven in a run.
Gotta love Josh Harrison's energy ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/1MzQhkVuFa— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) August 21, 2021
And then it all fell apart.
Manaea had made a couple mistakes in the first four innings, but was looking better than his last few disaster starts. In the 3rd he came one pitch away from an Immaculate Inning, striking out the first two batters on six straight pitches and then going 0-2 to the next batter, but it took a few extra offerings after that to record the third out.
In the 5th he set down the first two batters, but then he pegged the next one to put a runner on. Then he issued a walk. That brought up Bryant, and Manaea walked him too, loading the bases. Manager Bob Melvin had seen enough, and Manaea was pulled. It worked out, as Yusmeiro Petit got the out to strand all the runners, but the damage had been done just by getting Oakland’s bullpen into the game so early.
Petit made it through the 6th, and the A’s called on Andrew Chafin for the 7th. Their new hitting acquisitions had already been starring in this series, but their new pitching acquisition didn’t follow suit, as Chafin allowed back-to-back solo homers to cut the lead to 5-4. Those were the first runs Chafin was charged with since joining the team, in his 11th appearance.
Marte hit a one-out double in the bottom of the 7th, but Oakland stranded him instead of tacking on any insurance runs.
The Giants gave away more gifts in the 8th. Their first two batters singled off Jake Diekman, but then their sac bunt attempt was popped up for an out, and later one of the runners was picked off base. They had a potential go-ahead rally and just threw it away.
But no matter, because the A’s handed them a new chance in the 9th. Lou Trivino has done a wonderful job as the closer this year, and he’d only blown two saves all year entering tonight. But he was being asked to pitch for the third straight day, and the fourth time in five days, and that’s a recipe for disaster. This is why it was such a big deal that the starter Manaea couldn’t make it through the 5th inning, because of the chain reaction that led to needing Trivino in the 9th.
With one out he issued a walk to put the tying run on base, and the Giants called on a lefty pinch-hitter in LaMonte Wade Jr. Trivino went up-and-in with a 1-1 fastball, and Wade crushed it for a two-run homer.
Lead Flipping Pinch-Hit HRs in 9th allowed by #Athletics at Coliseum:— David Feldman (@dfeldy) August 21, 2021
9/1/1970* vs CHW Gail Hopkins off Mudcat Grant
5/23/1983* vs MIL Roy Howell off Steve McCatty
Today vs SF LaMonte Wade Jr off Lou Trivino
*A's came back to win
The 2021 A’s don’t just lose winnable games, they find historically heartbreaking ways to lose winnable games. Put this up next to the one against the Yankees when they grounded into a game-ending triple play.
Are the A’s here to win or not? They’re good enough. They have the talent. But they’ve spent the entire summer underachieving, against contenders and doormats alike.
There’s a little over a month left. Can they get hot and find one more wave to ride?