By Jason Wojciechowski on April 16, 2010 at 11:05 PM
Game 12, aka baseball in my pyjamas. Due to a variety of things, including a trip to buy cat food and a trip to Louise's for dinner (ok lasagna), I'm just now starting tonight's A's-Orioles matchup. For now, the audio and video both seem to be set up correctly, so I may be able to watch this game 100% as intended (in SD, though), with Kuiper and Fosse guiding me through things. No, I take it back. Two minutes in and we're buffering. This isn't a good sign. Crummy internet connection tonight, maybe.
I do love that the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is the sponsor of the little pregame weather box. Underrated boardwalk, I think. Coney Island gets all the love because of the history and the freakshows, but Santa Cruz is pretty awesome itself.
My favorite thing in the world when the A's are the home team: one pitch, ground ball up the middle, one out. Dallas Braden is officially on pace for a 27-pitch perfect game. Aaaaaand ... no longer. Strike one taken by Markakis, who Dave Trembley has smartly batted second tonight. That pushes the pitch count projection up a little (although not too much, since Markakis grounded out to Pennington on the third pitch). A groundout that Daric Barton ranged far to his right to field, making a throw to Dallas Braden covering (awkwardly), makes the third out. That's a happy inning for Braden: face three of the four best hitters in the lineup and retire them all on early, weakly hit ground balls. This means he's still on track for the perfecto.
Kevin Millwood apparently has one of those anomalous early-season lines: four homers allowed, but only three earned runs. That's awesome. And it also shows how silly earned runs can get sometimes.
The Orioles executed on the first two outs of the bottom of the first inning: Millwood threw an unreachable sinking fastball on the outside half to strike Rajai Davis out looking, and then Barton hit a liner toward left that Cesar Izturis snagged with a dive. Back to back "just tip your cap" plays. The third out, though, is on Ryan Sweeney, for chasing a Millwood breaking pitch that was at least a couple of inches outside. He waved at it weakly, which is surprising, because he's mostly been taking good hacks up there for the last week and a half. (Not that the results are there yet -- he's hitting .293 coming into the game, but almost no walks and no power limit him to an 85 wRC+.)
Wow, a fourth groundball out to start the second, but the box score isn't going to capture the essence of it. It's Matt Wieters, who is still young enough to run ok, but he is a catcher -- he hit a groundball toward the 5-6 hole. Pennington ran over and surrounded it (Kuiper's call, which I think is a good one, so I'm stealing it) rather than backhand it, then threw across his body, a long throw that was ever so slightly off the mark, but Daric Barton did his stretchingest to get it, the ball beating Wieters by maybe a step. (If you haven't seen Barton stretch, by the way, you're missing something. Dude goes all out -- full-on splits, reaching out with the glove, keeping the back foot on the bag. It's very pretty.) Braden then struck out the next two guys, one on a check swing and the other looking, making short work of the Orioles. Four grounders and two Ks? That'll make a pretty good SIERA for Braden. (It also gives me +8 points in my League Of Nerds.)
I mentioned yesterday that Eric Chavez has really looked back so far this year. Kevin Millwood made a mistake to him, hanging a curve right down the heart of the plate (maybe on the outer half a bit), and Chavez didn't rip it off the wall or anything, but he smacked a line drive to right center for a ringing single, one that allowed Kevin Kouzmanoff, who singled on a sharp grounder up the middle, to cruise first-to-third. I do miss the sheer genius of Chavez's glove at third, but, while the results haven't been there yet (.239 wOBA), he's looked good enough with the bat that I think his numbers will improve. He's not walking (3% walk rate), but he's hitting liners (21%), and his BABIP looks low given that line-drive rate + 50% grounders. (Of course, 50% grounders is also what's contributing to his lack of slugging so far.) The most important point, though? Today was Chavez's ninth game, and I just saw his 31st plate appearance -- Chavez played in eight games, with 30 plate appearances, last year. He's Eric Chavez, of course, so I'd better watch the rest of this game to make sure he finishes it, but so far so good, right?
Top third: fly, ground, ground (center, short, short). The last grounder required a nifty play by Pennington, who looks more than capable of making such plays so far, as the hop was a little awkward and he couldn't wait on it as much as he might like with the relatively speedy Cesar Izturis running to first.
Bottom third, speed kills, as Rajai Davis singled to lead off the inning, then with one out, stole second. Wieters' throw took a hop and got by Izturis into center, putting Davis at third for Ryan Sweeney. The infield came in for the Orioles, and Sweeney hit a grounder up the middle that Izturis fielded, but Izturis didn't even have a play at the plate. And it wasn't a weakly hit grounder, and it didn't put Izturis in a tough throwing position. It was a two-hopper, I think, and Izturis caught it squared up to make a throw home. But he decided he had no play and took the out at first. I'm not sure I've ever seen that before, a guy scoring without a throw on a hard-hit grounder against a drawn-in infield. Insane speed.
You hear about hitters "working a walk", but pitchers battle, too. Dallas Braden got down 3-1 to Adam Jones, but threw a silly Bugs Bunny changeup that Jones swung through, then got Jones to swing at three straight pitches that were probably out of the zone, resulting in two foul balls and a popup to Pennington. That's ten up, ten down, but as I right that, Nick Markakis breaks up the perfect game with a nice pulled ground-ball double on a two-strike change. Braden missed his location, unfortunately, as Jake Fox was set up outside and Dallas left the ball on the inner half. Miguel Tejada then remembered why he left Oakland in the first place, hitting a foul pop into the spacious area by first -- Daric Barton raced over and left his feet to make the catch, looking for all the world like an outfielder coming in on a ball. Pretty play by Barton.
Eric Chavez led off the bottom of the fourth with a grounder to second, giving him his 32nd up of the year, passing last year's mark. Well done, Eric. Welcome back, at least for now.
I've mentioned how awesome Cliff Pennington is, right? Like, repeatedly? Would you be convinced by a two-RBI triple on a smacked line drive past Garret Atkins at first? How about a 130 wRC+ despite a .229 batting average? (That's positively Custian.) This is the guy who almost lost his presumptive job to Adam Rosales? (Yes, yes, 41 ups coming into the game. Not the biggest sample.) (By the way, did I mention that I'm drinking my own Kool-Aid and calling plate appearances "ups" from now on? Rob Neyer asked on Twitter whether we could come up with a nice short name for "plate appearances" that wouldn't encumber us so much. It's more important than we might realize, since at-bats are a lame stat -- you can't really divide things by at-bats to get a real sense of performance, because it strips out, most importantly, walks, but also sacrifices and some other things. Anyway, my suggestion was playground-style "ups", and it's something that I saw other people advocate as well. So I'm running with it, even if he doesn't.)
Pennington followed up his triple with a catch on a liner ranging way to his right. Jake Fox followed that up by showing why a lot of people didn't really take him seriously as a catcher, dropping a foul popup near the screen. Using two hands might have helped. He's setting a bad example for Little Leaguers everywhere. Luckily, Braden induced another popup later in the at-bat, right in the center of the diamond, that Braden wanted, but Kouzmanoff called him off and made the play. (Although really, if there's any starter on the A's I trust to catch a popup, it's Braden.)
The home-run by Ty Wigginton that cut the A's lead to two came on a classic hanger -- Braden threw a changeup that looked like a batting practice fastball, with no sink, no fade, nothing. It was just a slow, straight pitch that stayed up, right where Wigginton could drive it a long way.
Ryan Sweeney's hit in the bottom of the fifth, a tough grounder that Ty Wigginton got his glove on at second but couldn't corral to make a good throw on (a case could even be made for it being an error), gave him an eleven-game hit streak, a mark that makes his 85 wRC+ all the more remarkable. How many guys go on double-digit hitting streaks while hitting 15% below league average?
Kevin Millwood hasn't been great, giving up four runs through six innings amidst a variety of hard-hit balls, but it seems like every time the A's don't hit the ball hard, they're whiffing, especially on his biiiig curve ball. In fact, he's got nine strikeouts through six innings.
Dallas Braden doesn't have as many strikeouts, but he's gotten grounder after grounder tonight, often relatively early in the count, leaving him at 82 pitches through six and absolutely giving him the chance to try to get through seven. Brad Ziegler is up in case Braden gets into trouble, and I'd assume he'll pitch the eighth even if Braden gets through the seventh easily.
Then again, Braden didn't use many pitches to get through that inning facing the minimum, giving up a line shot single to left, but following that up with a 3-6-1 double play (started beautifully by Daric Barton, who just looks incredibly slick with the glove at first -- really remarkable for a former catcher, actually; compare him to Jake Fox ...). I'm not sure his pitch count is over 90, and the Orioles won't have the middle of their order coming up next inning.
Sadly, I proceeded to fall asleep on the couch at this point and have no idea what happened at the end of the game. Thus, I was excited to wake up this morning to see that the final score was the same as when I went to sleep. Good job, A's! 8-4!