The Oakland A’s have made such a habit of losing close games that this afternoon they just aired a rerun of yesterday’s heartbreaker.
For the second straight day, the A’s took a lead into the late innings and then gave up a go-ahead pinch-hit homer to the San Francisco Giants, this time resulting in a 2-1 loss in Sunday’s series finale at the Coliseum.
Oakland’s penchant for gut-wrenching losses is getting historic. Since 1900, no MLB team has done what the Giants just pulled off. They hit a pinch-hit homer in the 8th inning or later, to turn a deficit into a lead, on back-to-back days. Never happened before.
This time it was a wallscraper by a non-slugger, Donovan Solano. It came off hot rookie A.J. Puk, getting a well-deserved chance in a high-leverage spot while most of the setup crew was unavailable. Like yesterday, the homer was immediately preceded by a walk.
In an extra twist of fate, this unique set of collapses came in the final games of the 2021 Bay Bridge Series, in front of two of the A’s biggest home crowds of the season. Oakland loses a series during a close postseason race, and San Francisco takes home the Bridge Trophy.
Blown saves haven’t specifically been a singular problem this year. In fact, the A’s bullpen has been reasonably good at holding leads, and you could also point to the offense scoring just one run today. But there’s always something going just wrong enough to not quite win. Since mid-June, Oakland is 6-15 in one-run games.
How it happened, again
To set the scene, we have to go back to Saturday. The A’s led the entire game, and in the 9th inning they called on a tired Lou Trivino for the save, his fourth appearance in five days. Trivino walked a batter, and the Giants brought in lefty LaMonte Wade Jr to pinch-hit. Wade blasted a two-run homer to give San Francisco the lead and the eventual victory. Many Oakland fans wondered why Puk had gone unused on an afternoon in which the bullpen was asked to work overtime.
Sunday began quietly, with neither team scoring in the first five innings. The A’s finally broke through in the 6th inning, when Tony Kemp slapped a double down the LF line and Mark Canha followed with an RBI single to right. Two opposite-field hits, including one with a runner in scoring position!
Unfortunately, that was all they got, both in that inning and all day. Canha got into scoring position after his single in the 6th, but he was later called out when a sharp ground ball clipped his foot. Oakland hit doubles in each of the 8th and 9th innings, but stranded the runners each time.
Meanwhile, the Giants couldn’t get anything off Frankie Montas either. The right-hander dominated for seven innings, never even letting them get to third base. They only hit the ball hard three times against him.
- Montas: 7 ip, 0 runs, 9 Ks, 2 BB, 2 hits, 105 pitches, 89.1 mph EV
It was everything the A’s needed from their starter today. Now they just needed two innings from their bullpen, or at least the portion of it that was available after a heavy workload this week.
Puk came in for the 8th. The southpaw got his first two batters to ground out, but then he issued a walk, barely missing high on a 3-2 pitch. Due up next was Wade, yesterday’s hero, but now Oakland had the advantage of the lefty/lefty matchup so the Giants pulled him for a righty pinch-hitter, Solano. Puk’s first pitch was a fastball on the inside corner and Solano jumped all over it, lining it into the LF corner just over the wall.
It had happened again, for the second day in a row. A late pinch-hit homer to turn the game on its head, and both times it came right after a walk. In an extra cosmic wrinkle, this time the pinch-hitter was pinch-hitting for the hitter who had been the pinch-hitter the previous day. Saturday was Wade off Trivino, and Sunday was Solano (batting for Wade) off Puk (working in high-leverage partly because Trivino was unavailable).
Montas delivered his seventh quality start in his last eight tries, and this was probably his best outing of the season.
Frankie Montas: First pitcher in A's history to throw 7+ scoreless innings, allow ≤ 2 hits, strike out 9+, and NOT get a win.— Doug Kern (@dakern74) August 22, 2021
The A’s have never in their franchise history wasted a start like the one Montas put in. They’ve had 20 other such games from their starting pitchers in the past century-plus, though most were complete game shutouts and only a couple stopped at seven innings.
Oakland also got another incredible performance from Starling Marte, which is pretty much a daily occurrence at this point. In the 4th inning he singled and stole second but was stranded. In the 6th it was his grounder that hit Canha for an out, but he reached base (with a “single”) and stole second and was stranded. In the 8th, with Canha on first, Marte doubled, but they were stranded on second and third.
That’s 17 steals for Marte, without being caught, in 22 games since being acquired.
Most consecutive successful stolen base attempts to start A's career (since CS 1st tracked in AL, 1920):— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) August 22, 2021
1977 Mitchell Page: 26
1981-82 Jimmy Sexton: 18
2021 Starling Marte: 17*
* active streak
He now leads the majors with 39 steals this season, including his time with the Marlins. Separately, he’s third in the NL, and eighth in the AL.
Keep the fAith
The A’s are good enough to win games, but don’t win them as often as they should. It’s up to you to decide if you think that will continue, or if you think they’ll turn it around and start clicking again and ride a new wave. If there’s one thing the Giants have taught us all in the past, it’s that you only have to be just good enough to make the postseason and then get hot at the right moment.
Watching Marte run has to be somewhat similar to watching Ricky run… it’s truly incredible watching him do this on a daily basis.— Chris Bassitt (@C_Bass419) August 22, 2021