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Game #24: A’s blow save, lose in extra innings

Partying like it’s 2021

Tampa Bay Rays v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s were two outs away from winning on Tuesday, but it all fell apart at the last minute.

The A’s dropped a 10-7 decision to the Tampa Bay Rays in 10 innings at the Coliseum, extending their losing streak to five games.

*** Click here to revisit tonight’s Game Thread! ***

This one was right out of the 2021 playbook. Oakland struck early, scoring five runs in the 1st inning including a grand slam, and from there they controlled the contest for most of the evening. However, their bats went silent and never added any insurance, while their bullpen held on just long enough to give up the lead at the very end. Frustratingly reminiscent of last season.

All the action came at the beginning of the game and then in the final two innings, sandwiched around six scoreless frames for both lineups. By the end of the 2nd the A’s led 5-3, and that margin held until the 9th, when the Rays homered to tie it. Then in the 10th, Tampa Bay exploded for five runs, and Oakland only mustered two in response.

Early lead

The 1st inning was wonderful!

The Rays scored a run in the top half, but the bottom half more than made up for it. Chad Pinder and Sheldon Neuse led off with singles to set the table, and a pair of walks by Stephen Piscotty and Christian Bethancourt forced in a run. The scoreboard was tied and they weren’t done.

With the bases still loaded, Kevin Smith came up next and went yard. It was his first homer of the season, and his first career grand slam, and suddenly the A’s had a big early lead.

The dinger barely snuck over the wall in the LF corner, and Statcast says that piece of contact gets caught for an out 78% of the time, but Smith got just enough of it and the four runs count all the same.

Unfortunately, that was all Oakland got during regulation. They had a chance in the 2nd but grounded into a double play, and their first two batters of the 3rd inning reached base. But from that moment until the end of the 9th, the A’s sent 21 batters to the plate and 19 of them were retired. The two who reached safely, in the 5th and 7th, were each eliminated in double plays.

On the pitching side, Oakland looked good for eight innings. Starter Paul Blackburn didn’t quite finish his customary five innings, and a handful of hard contact cost him an RBI double in the 1st and a two-run homer in the 2nd, but he exited with the lead and still showed flashes of the breakout performer we’ve seen this year.

  • Blackburn: 4⅓ ip, 3 runs, 5 Ks, 1 BB, 1 HR, 6 hits, 64 pitches

Those five strikeouts came with the help of 11 swinging strikes, representing a whopping 17% of all his pitches and 35% of all swings against him. When the Rays hit the ball it was often hard, and Blackburn fully earned all of his runs, but if he keeps missing bats and avoiding walks then mostly good things will keep happening.

The first few relievers were even better. Blackburn was pulled in the 5th after a one-out walk, and Zach Jackson needed only four pitches to get out of it. A.J. Puk followed with two perfect innings, brilliantly retiring six straight batters including two strikeouts and no hard contact at all. Then Dany Jimenez breezed through the top of Tampa Bay’s lineup in the 8th.

Only three outs to victory!

Late loss

In the 9th inning, Kirby Snead came out of the A’s bullpen looking for his first career save.

The lefty got the first out on a loud liner. The second batter singled, a good piece of hitting on a decent pitch. Then he hung a slider in the zone to Mike Zunino, and the righty slugger crushed it 402 feet for a game-tying homer. Womp womp.

Snead was eventually pulled in favor of Lou Trivino, who had just been activated this afternoon from a two-week stay on the COVID-related injured list. Usually you’d like to find a softer landing spot for a pitcher after such a long absence, but they were running out of fresh arms and the situation called for the best available.

Trivino finished out the 9th, but he came back out for the 10th and melted down. The first batter of the inning doubled to drive home the Manfred Man free auto-runner on second base. The next batter was intentionally walked, and a groundout advanced both runners. Then the next three batters crushed the ball, for a single, triple, and single, and suddenly it was 10-5.

By the time Justin Grimm came in to extinguish the rally, the Manfred Man runner had come up to bat.

Oakland couldn’t match that output in the bottom half, but at least they didn’t go quietly. Neuse drove in the auto-runner with a double, his third hit of the night, and Sean Murphy knocked him home with a single, his second hit. But it was too little too late.

Dang

It was almost the Matt Chapman Trade Return Game. Smith supplied the offense with his first homer, and Snead would have sealed it with his first save. Instead, it’s a heartbreaking defeat to extend a demoralizing skid.

We’re braced for the possibility of a lot of losses this year, but tonight was an especially unfortunate one. Still, it wasn’t completely without bright sides, as their pitching did a lot right for eight innings, and a few hitters had big days. Take the good news where you can get it during a rebuilding season, and try again tomorrow.