The A's decided to prove me wrong. "All 2-1 games, huh? We'll do something
completely different! How's 1-0 sound?!"
Well, it sounds fine, even if the one run scores on a throwing error by the
shortstop, and even if it's all a tad heart-rate-elevating. A 1-0 lead in the
ninth is one thing. A 1-0 lead in the ninth with Brian Fuentes throwing the
ball god-knows-where is another, especially when that leads to a 3-2 count with
a runner on first and two outs, meaning a gapper ties the game. Nothing of that
sort came to pass, thankfully.
The offense, despite scoring just one run for the second day in a row, seemed a
bit better than Friday night -- they worked some walks and hit some balls hard,
but weren't able to string things together. As you'll see below, every hitter
but Cliff Pennington (yes, even Kevin Kouzmanoff!) earned his way on base at
A's fans, at least the ones I know on the internet, hate Bob Geren. They think
he's a dummy, and given how fans felt about Art Howe and Ken Macha, the fact
that they think he's dumb even in comparison to those two says a lot. I tend to
see the positive, though -- his batting orders, now that Kevin Kouzmanoff has
been demoted, are non-stupid; his bullpen usage is generally fine, if
unextraordinary (i.e. he's not taking the radical step of employing Andrew
Bailey as a fireman); and with the possible exception of overusing Kurt Suzuki,
he mixes his bench players through the lineup. It's that second item that
interests me here, though. In a 1-0 game, only your best relievers should
pitch, even if you have to go to them in the seventh inning. If you're throwing
out your third-best pitcher because he's "the seventh-inning guy", you're doing
it wrong. Geren did not do it wrong. Grant Balfour, a guy who some thought
might close games in Bailey's absence, and a guy who's clearly either the best
or second-best pitcher in the bullpen at the moment, trotted out to start the
seventh (and promptly struck out the side in order). When Balfour gave up a
single to Joe Mauer in the 8th with one out, Bob Geren didn't mess around with
Jerry Blevins or Craig Breslow to play matchups and save Brian Fuentes for a
three-out save that might never come -- he went straight to Fuentes and asked
him to get the next five outs.
It's not the stuff Earl Weaver is made of or anything like that, but it is
notably decent bullpen management in today's environment.
One last non-game note before the box scores: Terry Steinbach stopped by the
booth for a half-inning, which was cool. Ray Fosse clearly loves the guy. While
they were talking, however, CSN showed a small graphic underneath its corner
graphic, which read: "In booth: Rahm Emanuel". One hopes this is the first and
last time Terry Steinbach is mistaken for Rahm Emanuel.
To the box and notes.
Mark Ellis smacked a ball to deep left center in the second inning that Denard
Span took a Magellian route on and had pop out of his glove. Given the
difficulty of the play at the ball (not the difficulty the play should have been
had Span broken back on the ball initially as he should have), my experience
suggests that such wallops are usually deemed hits, not errors. The scorer in
Minnesota, however, decided against me, taking a triple away from Mark Ellis.
That's a 1.6-run swing in wRAA for Ellis!
Giving Ellis credit for that triple and noting that it was his ground
ball to short on which Alexi Casilla made his fatal throwing error that
allowed Kurt Suzuki to score the game's lone run, I award Mark Ellis his
second consecutive Offensive Player of the Game award,1
narrowly edging Daric Barton's Bart-tastic day (double the opposite way,
I respectfully request that David DeJesus pick it up. His hit in this game was
a poked infield single with Daric Barton on second base, a ball that Alexi
Casilla might've had a clean play on had he not been shading toward second
before the pitch to keep Barton close.
DeJesus also made a poor defensive play on a bloop off Michael Cuddyer's
bat in the fourth, apparently not picking up the ball until it was too
late, making a full-on sprint and dive, but missing the catch in the
end. This put a runner on third, but Gio Gonzalez worked out of the
Josh Willingham's first-inning single was hit like a fungo for outfielder
throwing practice -- a low line drive, sharply hit, right at Delmon Young, who
cleanly fielded and threw a one-hop strike to Joe Mauer to get Daric Barton at
the plate by about ten feet. I'll never complain about a guy hitting a ball too
hard, but Willingham got a little unlucky there.
Kurt Suzuki hit some balls hard, but got no love from the BABIP gods --
notably, he scalded a line drive to center with the bases loaded and two out in
the seventh, but the ball required Denard Span to move just a few feet toward
right field and a few feet toward the infield to make the catch.
On the other hand, Suzuki also got some unwarranted love from the
first-base umpire, who called him safe in the fourth on a play that
should've resulted in a GIDP. Perhaps it was makeup for the fact that
the ball Suzuki hit to start the near-double-play was sharply stung down
the third-base line.
Suzuki also made one of his patented insane glove saves in the eighth
with Joe Mauer on second, keeping the Twins catcher there on an awful
Brian Fuentes fastball that could've easily gotten to the backstop.
Kevin Kouzmanoff also had an RBI taken away by a nice Twins defensive play.
With Mark Ellis on second, Kouzmanoff hit a solid ground ball up the middle, to
the left of second base. Alexi Casilla sold out to catch the ball, keeping it
from going into center field. There was no play on Kouzmanoff at first, so he
got the single, but Ellis was forced to hold at third.
Kouzmanoff didn't make any errors or defensive misplays today, but that
might just be because the ball didn't come to him once all day.
Gio Gonzalez threw the ball hard (I think I saw a 96 per the TV gun on one
pitch) and worked at a variety of eye levels, usually, as far as I could tell,
intentionally. I've said this before: he's never going to be Greg Maddux. The
key, then, is not so much being "effectively wild" as it is not throwing the
ball right down the middle when he does miss his spots. I only saw Gonzalez
throw three or four grooved pitches in this game, one of them resulting in a
sharp single and the rest in taken strikes early in the count. I don't recall,
nor do my notes reveal, a single hanging pitch. Gonzalez snapped off his
breaking ball and kept his change down in the zone.
Grant Balfour threw smoke in the seventh, striking out Danny Valencia, Luke
Hughes, and Jim Thome in order. He threw gas down the heart of the plate to
Valencia, who just watched it for some reason, blew Hughes away with a fastball
down the middle, and then was a little more careful with the guy who could
really hurt him in a one-run game, starting Thome off with a slider away,
challenging him with a fastball up that Thome fouled back, and then throwing the
fastball off the outside edge that the umpire had been calling a strike all day.
Brian Fuentes's six batters faced were more eventful. Delmon Young hit a ball
pretty well to right field with Joe Mauer on second in the eighth and Michael
Cuddyer got a five-pitch walk to lead off the ninth, but the three outs in the
ninth were all pretty weak: a high fly into right, a pop-up by first, and a
strikeout to end the game.