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A’s drop finale to Rays 4-3

At least a solid start from Blackburn though

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Athletics Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Oakland dropped their second straight game today, falling in the series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays in a close 4-3 matchup. At least they split the series.

Tough start for the squad today. Oakland’s first six batters today all struck out against Rays rookie right-hander Taj Bradley. We quickly saw why Tampa Bay is so high on this young arm they have. The seventh batter finally broke through against him as JJ Bleday bunt singled for the first hit of the day. It also guaranteed the A’s would not be no-hit for the 5,000 consecutive games, the longest current streak in baseball today.

On the pitching side righty Paul Blackburn had a quick 1-2-3 bottom of the first but had a harder time in the second. A Ryan Noda error preceded three straight hits, leading to two runs for Tampa Bay. It could have been worse but Pauly B buckled down and struck out the next three Rays to end the frame. Much needed.

The third inning was more of the same but Blackburn didn’t break this time. With runners at first and second the former All-Star locked in again and struck out three Rays to finish the frame, this time unscored upon.

The bats seemed to take some moments from Blackburn’s punch outs as they loaded the bases against Bradley but couldn’t secure the big hit… yet. They’d have to wait a little longer.

Tampa tagged on their third run of the day thanks to a solo shot off Blackburn in the fourth but, again, it could have been worse. Two hits after the home run put him right back into a high pressure situation and again he rose to the challenge as he racked up two more K’s to escape with just the one run allowed.

Now it was Oakland’s turn to get in on the scoring, with a little help from their opponent. Back-to-back walks and an error put the A’s in business with just one out and Noda coming up to bat. He made up for the earlier error with an RBI single to get the A’s on the board.

Oakland still had two more runners in scoring position waiting to get brought in and Seth Brown didn’t make them wait. Brownie brought both in on a flare to left field that tied this game and chased Bradley:

A double play ended the fun but the damage was done and we were all even after five innings.

Blackburn came out for the sixth and got two outs but hit the third and that made Mark Kotsay say enough was enough for him today. Left-hander Richard Lovelady came on in relief, ending Blackburn’s day.

-Paul Blackburn: 5 23 IP, 7 H, 3 R (2 ER), 1 BB, 9 K, 104 pitches

If he wasn’t striking out so many Rays he probably could have made it deeper into today’s game but who’s complaining? It looks like the A’s have last year’s pre-All-Star Blackburn back and not a moment too soon. He did enough to deserve a win today but at least won’t be saddled with a tough-luck loss.

The A’s had an injury scare coming up. Lovelady finished the frame and got two outs in the top of the seventh and then this happened:

You can clearly see him going for the arm, and just from this look it seems like it might be an elbow problem. Which is never good and almost always leads to at least an IL stint. Lovelady has been solid for the A’s this year as the second lefty in the ‘pen so this is unfortunate and everyone’s fingers are crossed it’s not something serious.

Back to the game. Austin Pruitt was next out of the bullpen and finished the seventh with no problem. The eighth, however, saw Tampa Bay hit their second home run of the day, a solo shot from Luke Raley to give the Rays the late lead. It would take some late-game heroics from the bats to secure the series win.

They sure tried, too. Oakland loaded the bases in the seventh but again couldn’t get the big hit as a Brownie double play and Rooker strikeout ended that chance. That was all the bats could muster as they went down 1-2-3 in the eighth and ninth innings to seal the loss.

The final two games leave a bitter taste in the mouth of the team and fans but considering that they still split the series, they shouldn’t kick themselves too much about today. Blackburn was pretty awesome today and continues to look more and more comfortable the more he gets going. The bats had a few big hits. We’ll be awaiting word on Lovelady’s injury, though.

The series is over but the home stand isn’t. The team now prepares to welcome the Philadelphia Phillies to town for a weekend series. Lefty JP Sears get the ball tomorrow night for the first game and he’ll be opposed by Taijuan Walker. Walker might have more wins but Sears’ stats are a bit better. Looks like it could shake out into a good game.