The Oakland A’s fell just short of a victory on Sunday, but they brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the 9th inning and came a few feet shy of some pretty fun deja vu.
The A’s lost 4-3 to the Toronto Blue Jays, narrowly dropping the series rubber match at the Rogers Centre. A couple of defensive errors by Oakland’s new infield helped make the difference on the scoreboard, but nevertheless the hungry club battled down to their final at-bat.
Like on Friday, this is the kind of competitive loss you can accept from a rebuilding team. A win would be even cooler, but the mistakes were more like growing pains and they did some good things along the way.
And reminiscent of Saturday, we almost saw another game-winning homer from Cristian Pache. The rookie outfielder went deep in the 9th inning yesterday to break a tie, and today he came up in the 9th with a runner on, two out, and a one-run deficit. He drilled the ball 397 feet to straightaway center, so close to another go-ahead dinger, but it faded and settled into a glove on the warning track just in front of the 400 sign.
That flyout ended the afternoon, but it continued the A’s trend of not being boring so far in this early season.
A rebuilding year will bring some bumps along the way, and today that came in the form of two costly defensive errors by new players who are usually pretty good at defense.
The day got off to a shaky start, when Toronto’s first batter of the game hit a routine grounder to third base and Sheldon Neuse clanked it for an error. Three batters later a sac fly scored the unearned runner, on what would otherwise have been the third out of a quiet inning.
Then in the 5th, with the leadoff batter aboard, the Blue Jays hit a grounder toward shortstop. Kevin Smith needed to make a tough play to his right just to have a chance for the force out at second, and he went for it, but his throw sailed wide and into right field and the runner continued all the way home for another unearned run. The ball didn’t leave the infield the rest of the inning, and maybe if Smith had just held it on that play then the runner never would have scored.
Neuse and Smith are usually solid defenders, and might even prove to be above-average when all is said and done. But Neuse has already played three different positions this season, and Smith was making his first start at shortstop after manning the hot corner so far, and both are human and it’s mid-April, so a whoopsie here and there is understandable.
It’s just something we still have to get used to after years of watching Platinum Glove third baseman Matt Chapman vacuum up everything on the left side of the infield, and a stark reminder that Chapman was in the opposing dugout today. To hammer home the point, he was the one who hit the grounder in the 5th inning toward Smith, one of the very prospects he was traded for last month.
But it wasn’t all bad news on defense, as Oakland’s veterans put on a clinic.
Second baseman Tony Kemp shined especially bright, pouncing on some sharp grounders and showing off quick instincts and athleticism. One particularly impressive play had him ranging up the middle to the shortstop side of the bag and then throwing all the way across to first. On another occasion he saved an errant throw by a teammate with a leaping grab.
Perhaps his key highlight came in that 5th inning. With Chapman on third base and one out, and the infield drawn in, Kemp got a grounder right at him and immediately threw home, in plenty of time to nab Chapman trying to score on contact. Kemp also recorded the first and third outs of the 5th inning, both tumbling plays on hard-hit exit velocities.
my brain is still catching up to this. pic.twitter.com/ntiKBm6eHW— Brodie Brazil (@BrodieNBCS) April 17, 2022
There was also a wily move from catcher Stephen Vogt. In the 2nd inning, Toronto had runners on the corners with one out. The count went full and the runners were moving on the pitch, and the batter swung hard through strike three, with his momentum carrying his feet out of the box and onto the plate. Vogt got up and pump-faked a throw to second base, which was enough to draw an obstruction call on the out-of-place batter without even needing to release the ball. The runner was automatically called out and the rally was suddenly over.
Another catcher made a heads-up play later on. Christian Bethancourt replaced Vogt midway through, and in the 8th inning a breaking pitch briefly got away from him. As the ball bounced in the dirt, the runner tried for second base, but Bethancourt recovered in time to pick it up and deliver a dart to the bag for the out — with a beautiful catch and tag by Kemp, of course.
Only four runs
Beyond those two unearned runs by the defense, the A’s pitching staff only allowed two more earned runs against the mighty Blue Jays lineup.
Rookie Adam Oller made his second career start. He showed some mettle in the 1st inning after his teammate’s error, striking out Vladimir Guerrero Jr with runners on the corners and nobody out. In each of the first three frames he got into a bit of trouble but escaped without a crooked number on the board, and he fanned Guerrero again in their second meeting. However, Toronto did score once apiece in each of those first three innings, and Oller was pulled during the 4th.
- Oller: 3⅓ ip, 3 runs (2 earned), 3 Ks, 3 BB, 5 hits, 75 pitches
That’s progress from his debut outing last week! Baby steps.
Adam Oller felt better in his second MLB start, but says he still has things to clean up pic.twitter.com/gwyJ5TvHfl— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) April 17, 2022
The bullpen was tasked with overtime and answered the call.
- Ryan Castellani made his A’s debut and finished out the 4th inning, then began the 5th but was charged with the unearned run on Smith’s error. He was lifted mid-rally for ...
- Sam Moll, who came in and bailed out that jam in the 5th with three grounders to Kemp.
- Jacob Lemoine entered for the 6th and almost took it the rest of the way, but ...
- Zach Jackson helped finish it off by recording the final out, or rather he was on the mound when Bethancourt threw out the runner at second base for the final out.
The starter didn’t last long, and the relievers aren’t famous, but the staff patched together enough big pitches to keep Oakland in the game.
The A’s trailed throughout, but their lineup kept it close.
Down 3-0 in the 5th inning, Vogt got things started with a solo homer. Do you believe that??
I— Oakland A's (@Athletics) April 17, 2022
I believe in
I believe in Stephen Vogt
I BELIEVE IN STEPHEN VOGT pic.twitter.com/nvbEvyUWgb
He smoked it 420 feet, with a blazing 105 mph exit velocity. That was his first hit of the year, after 10 outs and a walk, and a promising sign that there’s still enough thunder left in his bat to be productive in the second catcher spot.
Later in the inning, Smith and Kemp singled to put themselves on the corners, and Sean Murphy lofted a sac fly to drive in a run. That brought the score to 3-2, though the Jays quickly got one of those runs back.
In the 8th inning, trailing 4-2, the A’s kept battling. This time it was Murphy and Chad Pinder with singles, and Seth Brown with the sac fly. Nothing complicated, just some situational hitting to take advantage of opportunities. They never actually got a hit with runners in scoring position, but they still cashed in a pair of chances with these sac flies, helping them chip away and enter the 9th inning down by just one run.
With two outs in that final frame, Smith drew a walk to get on base. That brought up Pache, who almost played hero again, but his deep drive fell just short.
Go get ‘em next time
Oakland made just enough mistakes to lose this game, but they also did enough right to keep it close and give themselves a chance against a tough opponent. Learn from the bad stuff, build on the good stuff, and enjoy the ride, because so far this team is a lot of fun.
Lots of good things happened for the A’s on their opening 5-5 trip..looking forward to two consecutive weeks in the Bay Area starting tomorrow night vs Baltimore..they were in every game on the trip against 3 playoff contenders in tough places to play..no more turf for 2022!— Vince Cotroneo (@vincebaseball) April 17, 2022