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Game #94: Chris Smith Does it Again, But So Does Casilla

36-year-old Chris Smith threw a gem, but Santiago Casilla undid it and denied Smith his first career win (as a starter) - all with 2 outs in the 9th. A’s lose 3-4.

Tampa Bay Rays v Oakland Athletics
You deserved better, Chris.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

First up, here is the link to the game thread. You can see the exact moment all of our souls were crushed, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Sigh. Chris Smith is the perfect Cinderella story, exactly what we need to distract us as some of our favorite players are traded in the rebuilding fire sale. 36 years old and making his second major league start, Smith is clearly every loving second of his time in the bigs, as is his family up in the stands. After coming off a respectable 6 inning, 3 run start in his first outing, Smith improved in both categories and yielded only 2 runs (1 earned) in 7 innings. Heading into the 9th inning with a 1-run lead, we were so close to having our feel-good story. But Santiago Casilla just wouldn’t let us have it.

After a nice 1-2-3 inning to start the game, Smith got into some trouble in the 2nd, no thanks to his defense. However, it wasn’t one of the usual suspects that let him down - it was Future Gold Glover Matt Chapman. Following a leadoff walk, Chris Smith induced a groundball, a double play waiting to happen. Chapman let the ball trickle under his glove and out into left field, where Khris Davis’s noodle arm was powerless to prevent the lead runner from taking third base. The E-5, Chapman’s first, immediately proved costly as a sacrifice fly put the Rays on the board. With the help of a couple more ground balls (one of which was a much harder play for Chapman), the A’s kept Tampa to just the 1 run.

To be fair to Chapman, his defense was absolutely stellar the rest of the night. He made multiple plays that impressed with both the glove and the arm, including one in the 9th that I’ll get to in a bit. So despite the unearned run on his shoulders, he definitely earned that value back.

Anyway, back to Chris Smith. The only other run he gave up was a home run to the very good Steven Souza Jr. on the first pitch of the 3rd inning. From that point on, Smith locked down a solid Rays offense. He retired the next 3 batters in the 3rd, then had a 1-2-3 4th. He gave up a single in the 5th, but the runner was promptly erased on a strike-‘em-out, throw-‘em-out double play. Steven Souza Jr. argued the strike three call (admittedly, it was iffy) but manager Kevin Cash stepped in and took the bullet, getting ejected after arguing with the umpire. The 6th and 7th innings were both pleasantly uneventful from Smith.

Smith’s stuff isn’t going to overpower anyone. In fact, his fastball is almost laughably slow, clocking in around 84-86mph. But to use the tired cliché, Smith can pitch, not just throw. His breaking balls showed lots of movement, and despite a couple of walks and some deep counts, Smith was almost always able to make the pitch he needed. And come on, he’s just so easy to root for. The dude is 36 and spent 6 years grinding in the minor leagues after getting his taste of the bigs way back in the day. FFS, I don’t even think it’s his picture that comes up when you google him (seriously, look it up - it looks like a manager at Best Buy). He and his family want this more than anyone.

But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Smith left after 7 innings (3 hits 2 walks 1 ER) with a 3-2 lead, thanks to a Khris Davis home run back in the first (a Davis-Davis score, as Khrush belted one to straightaway center after Rajai singled and stole second and third) and a wild pitch in the 4th that scored, what do you know, Khris Davis. The newly acquired Blake Treinen took care of the 8th efficiently (both in pitch count and timing - he worked a lot faster than his glacial pace last night). So it was just on to Santiago Casilla in the 9th. Three outs. C’mon, man.

He just couldn’t do it. Chapman immediately saved Casilla’s bacon with his best play of the night at third base, diving to his right and snaring a surefire double before throwing an absolute laser to first. LoMo struck out swinging and Chris Smith’s first win as a starter was tantalizingly close. But Casilla just couldn’t shut the door. With 2 outs, it went: wild pitch, steal, walk, single, single. Just like that, the Rays were up 4-3. Just like that, Chris Smith lost the win he’s been working his whole life to get.

Hendriks replaced Casilla for the final out and the A’s failed to produce anything in the bottom of the 9th.

I’m so sorry, Chris.