It was an 0-1 fastball that wasn’t thrown hard enough to be located where it was. 10 or 15 years ago, maybe Collin McHugh gets away with that pitch. But 92 miles per hour up in the zone in today’s game is liable to be crushed. And it was; Stephen Piscotty didn’t miss, belting his fourth homer in as many days into the Crawford Boxes in left field. That should have been it. Blake Treinen, our lone all-star as of this morning, has been automatic. This was supposed to be the story.
For a while, tonight’s game looked pretty forgettable. The A’s had four hits and zero runs when Astros closer Ken Giles trotted into the game in the ninth inning. The Astros, on the other hand, had scored in half their offensive innings. They only managed one run each time, but still, things didn’t look promising.
But out of nowhere, the A’s bats came alive. If you’ve followed Ken Giles at all this season, you’ll know that no rally against him is really that unexpected at this point, but he didn't’ even record an out, allowing three runs on three singles. After Giles’ failings (and a profanity hurled at AJ Hinch on the way out) Houston turned to the man the Cubs traded for Aroldis Chapman to replace, Hector Rondon. Rondon allowed a single himself before striking out two straight, pushing the A’s to their final out, still down a pair of runs. But on the first pitch he saw, Marcus Semien doubled home Khris Davis and Nick Martini. Tie game.
The A’s used seven pitchers tonight. Sean Manaea went just four innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and a walk. The bullpen, by and large, was good. Emilio Pagan allowed the Astros to score once in his lone inning of work, but Ryan Dull, Santiago Casilla, and Chris Hatcher pitched scoreless frames. Hatcher even struck out every batter he faced. And the real bullpen hero tonight with Yusmeiro Petit, who pitched two shutdown innings after the A’s tied the game in the ninth, allowing just a single hit and striking out three.
Which brings us back to Stephen Piscotty.
But the bottom of the eleventh was less kind. Bob Melvin had already been ejected for arguing a check swing, and despite Blake Treinen’s shaky outing last night, Ryan Christenson made the decision to go to him again tonight. It’s hard to be too critical. Treinen is our closer. He’s been dominant. The bullpen was nearly empty. And no bench coach wants to get too experimental when he’s pressed into service after his manager has been run.
But tonight was not Blake’s night. Our old friend Josh Reddick pinch-hit for another of our old friends, Max Stassi, to lead off the inning, working a full-count walk. Reddick then went first to third on a ground ball single to right field. Piscotty made a strong throw but he never had a chance. With runners at the corners and the infield playing half way, Tony Kemp hit a bouncer to Marcus Semien, who threw a bouncer of his own to Jonathan Lucroy at the plate.
A good throw would have probably cut down Reddick at the plate. But a good throw this was not. It short hopped Lucroy, and even if he picked it, I don’t think he’d have tagged Reddick in time to prevent the run. And so the game was tied and runners were at first and second with nobody out. George Springer hit what looked like it would be a sacrifice fly, but another strong throw kept Kyle Tucker at second. And then this happened:
As Lucroy tried to tag Bregman, the ball slipped out of his hand. At the risk of sounding like a Lucroy apologist, you can forgive his sense of urgency as he was almost certainly thinking about a quick tag and then firing to second or third to turn two. It was a “hustle mistake” - a mistake that wasn’t at all fatal - he just had to throw to first to get Bregman. The runners would advance but there would be two outs. The A’s could walk Jose Altuve and would have a decent shot to extend the game. But instead, Lucroy’s throw to first glanced off Bregman’s helmet and into right field. Game over.
The umpires spend what felt like an eternity reviewing the play, but there was nothing they could do. You could go to baseball games for a long time and never see that play again. If you’re counting, Alex Bregman has now been at the plate for five of the Astros seven walk-offs since Game 5 of the World Series last year.
We find ourselves at this all-important series’ midway point having split so far. This team has proven resilient, and you’d like to see them brush this one off and get back at it tomorrow. And I sure hope they do, because that finish was a pretty bitter end to what was almost another incredible comeback.