What fresh new horror did the 2021 Oakland A’s season bring on Friday?
Brace yourselves for this one. The A’s took an 8-2 lead into the 8th inning but blew it, then retook the lead in the 9th, and then lost on a walk-off homer by former teammate Marcus Semien. The final score was 11-10 in favor of the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
Yikes. Right when the A’s need every win they can get to stay in the postseason race, they dropped a game that you absolutely can’t lose. Their lineup was great, racking up double-digit scoring. Their rotation was great, delivering seven quality innings. But their bullpen exploded, allowing nine runs in the final two frames. It wasn’t even a save situation when the relievers entered, but by the end they’d blown two saves.
Holding leads has been a problem all week. On Wednesday against the Tigers, Oakland led 6-3 but let it slip away and lost. On Thursday they led Detroit 8-0 and nearly blew it, barely holding on 8-6. Now tonight they were up 8-2 late and let the opponent come back all the way.
What’s worse, this time the decisive blow was leveled by the beloved star who left the A’s last winter as a free agent. Semien was available on a one-year contract but Oakland let him get away, and now he ranks second among all MLB position players in fWAR and just helped hang a loss on his former club.
Adding injury to insult, outfielder Starling Marte was hit in the head by a pitch and exited the game early. Fortunately the team doesn’t think he has a concussion.
For the fourth straight day, the A’s offense looked great. They scored early (in the 1st), and often (in five different innings). Seven of them got hits, six of them scored at least once, and four of them notched multiple RBI, including two homers and three doubles.
Oakland loaded the bases right away in the 1st inning, and their fifth batter of the game, Matt Chapman, launched a double off the wall to score two. A few more feet and it could have been a grand slam, but this was a nice start nonetheless.
Chappy gets the scoring started with a big double pic.twitter.com/shcGSDwZ0L— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) September 3, 2021
Toronto tied it up in the bottom of the 4th, and in the top of the 5th the A’s got back to work. Josh Harrison fouled off a pitch that nearly hit him, then the next pitch did hit him in the hand, which brought up Marte who got pegged by the very next pitch. Oakland was not happy about the sequence of events, with Harrison particularly vocal on the bases after watching a third straight wild high-and-tight pitch drill his teammate.
But for the moment Marte stayed in the game, and the A’s had two runners on with one out. They made the most of the opportunity, as Matt Olson lined a double into the corner to score both runners. Oakland had the lead back, though Marte was replaced on defense in the next inning.
In the 6th they kept pushing. A leadoff walk set up a two-run homer by Tony Kemp, his second long ball in the past week.
At this point the score was 8-2 after seven innings. Normally that’s an automatic win. In the last half-century, the A’s had never lost a game in which they’d been leading by at least six runs after seven innings, per Josh Dubow of the Associated Press. Tonight they did.
Manaea bounce back, bullpen bounced
In the month of August, Sean Manaea made five starts and all of them were bad. Through the end of July he’d been one of the top arms in the league, but he slumped for a month and allowed 22 runs in 20 innings including eight homers. In his first outing of September, he ended that skid and looked like his old awesome self.
The lefty worked through a jam in the 1st inning and went on to retire seven straight batters before his one big blip, a two-run homer in the 4th. After that he set down 11 of the next 12 hitters he faced to cruise through the 7th.
- Manaea: 7 ip, 2 runs, 9 Ks, 0 BB, 5 hits, 86 pitches, 94.7 mph EV
That’s the star we watched for four months this summer. There was some hard contact, but he didn’t walk anybody to issue free help, and he missed bats and earned strikeouts. He even had his highest velocity of the year, averaging 93.6 mph on his sinker and topping out at a season-high 96.2 mph.
Perhaps Manaea could have kept going, but with such a big lead, the A’s opted to let the bullpen finish off the final two innings. That decision backfired spectacularly.
First in was Lou Trivino, the fallen closer looking to right the ship in some low-leverage situations. He walked the first batter, then got two outs before trouble brewed. A single drove home the runner, and a HBP and a walk loaded the bases, and Trivino was pulled.
Next in was Yusmeiro Petit, the master of escaping jams. He walked his first batter to force home a run, narrowing the lead to 8-4. And then ...
This game is tied on a Lourdes Gurriel grand slam -- I can and can't believe this from the A's bullpen pic.twitter.com/6iRx7wq6Bo— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) September 4, 2021
That’s a game-tying grand slam by Lourdes Gurriel. Unbelievable, and yet exactly what we’ve come to expect from this season.
Hope renewed, crushed even harder
Oakland didn’t give up. In the top of the 9th they grabbed the lead right back, as Mark Canha blasted a two-run homer.
MARK CANHA GOES YARD FOR THE LEAD pic.twitter.com/qnKrFQvA0S— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) September 4, 2021
Maybe they could pull this one out after all. It hadn’t been pretty, but they were back on top in the 9th inning.
Then the nightmare reached its final act.
Interim closer Sergio Romo came in for the 9th inning. The first batter doinked a soft single. The second batter chased a 2-2 slider but poked it into left field for a double. Then Semien came to the plate and floated a concept to his former team. Three-run walk-off homer.
Oakland’s own hometown hero, wearing a different uniform, haunted their decision to let him go. It’s bad enough to lose in this fashion, but for it to come from Semien felt like the culmination of this entire heartbreaking season. All of the what-ifs, all of the just-misses, rolled together into one perfect disaster.
The failure of the bullpen is also a reminder that they never got a pitch all year from expensive closer signing Trevor Rosenthal. Trivino covered the role well until unraveling in August and being replaced, and this was Romo’s third save chance in the 9th inning. Last Saturday he allowed a homer but got the job done. Thursday he almost allowed a homer but got the job done. Tonight, he allowed a homer and it caught up to him.
First time in #Athletics franchise history the bullpen recorded 3 or fewer outs and allowed as many as 9 runs.— David Feldman (@dfeldy) September 4, 2021
Previous worst was 8 runs alllowed in 1 IP in 1962 at Yankee Stadium
Per ESPN Stats & Info: “Entering Friday, [MLB] teams were 1-457 this season when trailing by 6+ runs in the 8th inning or later (other win: Pirates on July 17 vs the Mets).”
The A’s have taken some tough losses this season, but this is the worst one yet. The hopelessness of the big blown lead, after another great day by the offense and a huge bounce-back from Manaea. The gut-punch of the 9th-inning seesaw, retaking the lead and blowing it again. And the agony of being beaten by your former star, and what could have been if only Semien were still wearing green-and-gold.
I feel when you play this game so hard you realize things about the baseball gods and you tend to believe. For Marcus to come up in that situation at that time in the game to do what he did is wild. I wanted to live in that moment for a bit. that’s all https://t.co/FSEatZcDzs— Tony Kemp (@tonykemp) September 4, 2021