The rebuilding Oakland A’s aren’t expected to win a lot of games this season, and indeed they lost their Opening Day matchup. But it wasn’t boring, and they didn’t make it easy on the opponent.
The A’s fell 9-5 to the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday at Citizens Bank Park, in their first game of the 2022 season. A spirited comeback attempt made things interesting in the late innings, even if it wasn’t quite enough to steal a victory.
The afternoon got off to a rough start for Oakland. The Phillies leadoff batter homered, and by the end of the 3rd inning the A’s were hitless and facing a 5-0 deficit. They finally got on the board in the 4th with a solo homer by Chad Pinder, but they trailed 6-1 after six frames.
Oakland made their move in the 7th inning, plating four runs including a three-run dinger by Seth Brown, and that rally pulled them within a run. However, their bullpen was unable to hold the Phillies in check, and the home team continued to tack runs on the board against three different A’s relievers. The relentless attack proved to be too much for the green-and-gold to keep up with today.
Falling behind early
Starter Frankie Montas took a beating in the box score, but his outing had more bright spots than it appeared.
He allowed a homer to the first batter he faced, Kyle Schwarber, which is unfortunate but understandable. Schwarbs hit 32 long balls last year despite missing two months, and he hits more leadoff dingers than anybody in the majors right now. It happens.
The right-hander settled down from there, retiring seven of his next eight batters, before a rally formed in the 3rd inning. Schwarber came up again and this time drew a walk, the only free pass issued by Montas all day. It proved to be a costly one, as the next two batters ripped a single and a double to drive home the free runner. From there, things got weird.
The double was hit by Bryce Harper, and he should have been out at second easily. But he made an awkward slide and Tony Kemp held the tag too high, allowing Harper’s foot to squeeze underneath. He was called out on the field but it was overturned upon review.
Quick aside: Technically they got this right. Harper’s foot went under the tag. It appeared to clip some strings on Kemp’s glove, but I don’t know if we’re getting that granular on the details here. The thing I don’t like is the precedent. Harper was out by so much that I think Kemp was hanging back to apply an easier tag and avoid needlessly hurting somebody. But if that’s going to get litigated in replay, then fielders will start hammering runners with aggressive tags to make sure there’s no margin for doubt. Somebody will get hurt over this someday when their knee or ankle or hand gets smashed.
The overturned call put runners at second and third with one out. Montas struck out the next batter, which would have ended the inning if they’d properly retired Harper. Instead it was the second out, and the rally continued, with the Phillies peppering a couple singles to drive home three more runs. Perhaps it could have been a quick one-run burst, but instead it became a four-run onslaught.
However, Montas recovered. He breezed through the 4th in nine pitches, and notched a perfect 5th as well, setting down six straight batters in the process.
- Montas: 5 ip, 5 runs, 6 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HR, 6 hits, 92 pitches, 90.4 mph EV
It didn’t turn out well, and the loss goes in the books along with all those runs, but don’t worry about Frankie. He faced a stacked lineup and only allowed a few pieces of especially hard contact, while missing tons of bats and mostly avoiding walks. The big rally against him was fueled by a miscue from the defense behind him, and even then he worked past the adversity to finish strong and leave on a high note.
The key to his day was those final two innings. He’d thrown 33 pitches during the frustrating 3rd, but he got back on the horse and dialed right back in. He stopped the opponent’s momentum, and made sure his bullpen didn’t need to work overtime, capping the performance with his third strikeout of $100 million cleanup hitter Nick Castellanos. That’s the kind of thing aces do.
Meanwhile, the A’s lineup did not get off to as hot of a start against Phillies starter Aaron Nola. Their bats went hitless the first time through, with their first baserunner coming in the 3rd inning when Stephen Piscotty was pegged in the arm by a pitch.
They finally broke through in the 4th. With two outs on the board, Chad Pinder drilled a homer the other way, giving the A’s their first hit and first run of the season.
They went quiet again after that until the 7th inning rolled around, at which point they began to figure out Nola and put together several pieces of hard contact against him. Sean Murphy yanked a double down the line, and Pinder smoked a single. With two on and nobody out, Seth Brown worked a full count and then saw something he liked, blasting it over the wall for a three-run homer.
Suddenly it was a ballgame again! And the A’s weren’t done.
The Phillies turned to their bullpen, and at the same time their infield defense fell apart. Elvis Andrus hit a slow bouncer to third and reached on an error, and a couple batters later Stephen Vogt hit a potential 4-6-3 double-play ball but beat it out with his 37-year-old catcher legs. Cristian Pache grounded one hard toward 3B and it glanced off the fielder’s glove for an infield single, and Kemp tapped a checked-swing roller toward 3B that got thrown away by the same fielder, allowing Vogt to score.
To sum that up: Two errors set up a situation where Vogt scored from second base on an infield single. Video or it didn’t happen.
Even the fans showed some Opening Day jitters on defense.
The score was now 6-5, with the go-ahead run in scoring position, but that was as close as they got. Jed Lowrie came up to pinch-hit and struck out looking on a nasty slider.
After Montas exited, we got looks at three of the A’s new relievers.
First up was Jack Lemoine in the 6th inning, making his MLB debut. He was a bit wild with his sinker, walking two of his first three batters, and he paid for it when a single and a sac fly brought one of them home. But he didn’t let it snowball into anything bigger, retiring Schwarber to end it.
Next came Domingo Acevedo in the 7th inning. He began with a strikeout, and ended with another, but in between he allowed a run when a walk to Harper set up an RBI double by Castellanos.
Wrapping things up was lefty Kirby Snead in the 8th inning, fresh off his acquisition in the Chapman trade last month. He got knocked around for a couple runs on three hits and a walk.
None of them were lights out, but none melted down either. Acevedo in particular showed both sides of his potential, striking out a couple tough batters but also allowing a walk and some hard contact, and one question will be which of those versions of him we see more often this summer.
A few stray thoughts:
- New prospect Kevin Smith didn’t have any hits, but he nearly went deep to the opposite field, and he looked comfortable on defense at his new position of third base.
- Kemp made an error on a double-play ball early in the game, and then later he also missed the tag on Harper. But he helped make up for it in the 8th, with a diving play up the middle to save a run.
- It was surprising to see Pinder batting cleanup against a RHP, but he delivered with a homer and a sharp single, both at triple-digit exit velocity. Even one of his outs was blasted, a 103.7 mph groundout that stood as his hardest contact of the day.
- Montas got his work in, as his 92 pitches tied for the most in an opening start so far around the majors, per radio broadcaster Vince Cotroneo.
In other news, click here to watch the Phillie Phanatic parachute onto the field before the game!
Baseball is back!
For the A’s, this is not a season who’s success is likely to be measured in wins and losses. We’ll be watching for the bright sides along the way, enjoying the happy stories that emerge, and getting to know a new round of future favorites.
The important takeaway from today is that baseball is back. Hopefully Oakland will earn a victory soon, but for now it was nice just to see them on the field, swatting a couple dingers and at least competing. Happy Opening Day!