Monday’s game was exactly what we expected from the Oakland A’s 2022 season, but with the roles reversed.
Everything went wrong for the Tampa Bay Rays, and everybody on the A’s responded by playing like a superstar, resulting in a 13-2 shellacking at Tropicana Field.
The day went south for Tampa Bay almost immediately. Facing his fourth batter of the game, Rays starter Luis Patiño strained his left oblique and had to leave the game. Just two outs into the evening, they were already calling to the bullpen, and their emergency reliever plunked a batter with his first pitch and allowed homers with his fourth pitch and his ninth pitch. A couple defensive miscues by the infield later on made things even worse.
Oakland took full advantage. They scored four runs in that 1st inning, then four more in the 2nd, peppering in another in the 4th and four more in the 9th. By the end they’d launched four dingers, including a grand slam to cap off the final frame, and banged out 13 hits to go with three walks and a HBP. Over half their hits went for extra bases, and they went 4-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
On the other side of the ball, A’s starter Paul Blackburn was brilliant. Staked to a huge early lead, he breezed through five scoreless innings, missing bats like we’ve never seen him do and striking out a career-high seven batters. Three relievers took it the rest of the way without any drama.
The injury to Patiño was a bummer of a way to begin the day, and it had the Rays scrambling from the start. Sometimes everybody steps up in an emergency bullpen game, and a parade of relievers surprisingly keeps the opposing lineup guessing for nine innings. That was not the case tonight.
First out of the pen was Chris Mazza. The right-hander is an East Bay product who was born in Walnut Creek and attended Clayton Valley High School in Concord, then stayed nearby at Menlo College in Atherton.
Entering with a runner on second and two out, Mazza’s first pitch slipped out of his hand and pegged Sean Murphy in the rear, so wild that it nearly passed behind him without contact. Next up was Seth Brown, and he annihilated the third pitch he saw, 427 feet at 108.5 mph exit velocity. Three-run Brownie Blast!
Then came Chad Pinder, and he went deep too, making it back-to-back homers. Brown and Pinder have each gone yard twice already this year, in the first four games.
The charge continued in the 2nd inning. A pair of singles led off the frame, and the Rays lost a grounder on the turf for a fielding error to send one runner home. With two on and still nobody out, Elvis Andrus left the building for a three-run tater.
The score was now 8-0, and the rest of the game felt like a formality, though if last year taught us anything it’s that it ain’t over till it’s over. But it turned out this one was indeed over.
Mazza made it through the 3rd inning, but found more trouble in the 4th. Another infield error and a pair of singles loaded the bases, and the Rays hesitated a moment too long on a potential inning-ending double play grounder, allowing Murphy to beat it out and a run to score.
Tampa Bay finally went to their bullpen again after that and Oakland’s lineup quieted down for a while, until one final shout at the end.
With the game already out of reach, the Rays shifted right fielder Brett Phillips to the mound to pitch. That alone was worth the price of admission, as the universally popular Phillips put on quite a show. He delivered the ball with an average velocity of 46.7 mph and the oddest windup you’ve ever seen, and talked some friendly trash to get laughs out of his opponent. Then he made an amazing diving catch of a popup in foul territory, sliding almost into the dugout.
However, the one thing he didn’t get was the last zero on the scoreboard. He made it through the 8th inning unscathed, but in the 9th he loaded the bases and Sheldon Neuse connected for a grand slam.
NEUSE GRAND SLAM OFF BRETT PHILLIPS pic.twitter.com/zYQBBfL3Bf— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) April 12, 2022
“Your body just doesn’t want to wait that long,” said Neuse of the mid-40s velocity, per Matt Kawahara of the S.F. Chronicle.
The whole game was a weird situation, but the A’s took care of business. It’s easy to write off a big scoring day when the opponent hits some unexpected adversity, but it’s also not a guarantee to happen. Sometimes the sudden twist throws off your lineup too and they each face a different arm in every at-bat and three hours later you’re left wondering why nobody could settle in and square anything up. Not today, as the ragtag band of hitters emphatically came through.
Murphy even hustled out his first career triple!
While Oakland’s lineup was smashing everything they saw, their pitching staff was holding serve just as strongly.
Starter Paul Blackburn was as nasty as we’ve ever seen him. He faced 19 batters and struck out seven of them, earning a dozen swinging strikes that accounted for 17% of the pitches he threw and 41% of all the swings against him. Those are monster numbers from a pitcher not known for missing bats, and they added up to five dominant innings in which the Rays never even reached third base.
- Blackburn: 5 ip, 0 runs, 7 Ks, 1 BB, 3 hits, 71 pitches
There were a few loud outs against him, but this was a season debut beyond any reasonable expectation. Team insider Martin Gallegos notes that Blackburn was “tinkering with new grips this offseason and found one for more of a ‘sweepy’ slider,” which registered as a curveball on Statcast and got more whiffs than any of his other pitches. Blackburn mentioned that curve among some other things that went well tonight.
Blackburn stayed locked in, even after the A’s opened up a big lead pic.twitter.com/G25LrY3vQa— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) April 12, 2022
The A’s turned to their pen in the 6th, and Tampa Bay scratched out a couple runs in garbage time. But it was too little too late, and Zach Jackson, A.J. Puk (2 innings), and Justin Grimm soaked up the final frames.
Are we having fun yet?
The first two games of the year were what we expected, with Oakland’s misfit roster getting knocked around. The last two have been something quite different, with a businesslike victory over the Phillies and now a wild rout over the Rays.
That doesn’t mean they’ll suddenly be upstart contenders because of two early wins, but they’re showing that they won’t go down easily, and that opponents need to take them seriously. At the very least, they’re already more fun than we dared let ourselves hope.
What will the next six months bring? We’ll have to wait and see, but it sure hasn’t been a boring rebuild so far.