By Jason Wojciechowski on April 12, 2011 at 1:00 AM
The A's got away from their usual one- or two-run ways for a game, racking up the unheard of total of five against the Twins in the rubber match of that series, but they were right back where they started against Mark Buehrle and the White Sox to open this three-game set. Buehrle did what Buehrle does, keeping the A's off-balance with soft and softer stuff, in and out, never hanging something where a hitter could really give a pitch a ride. The few sharply hit balls were still low enough to the ground that the results were singles at best.
On the other hand, Dallas Braden matched Buehrle almost every step of the way, the major mistake being the grooved fastball that resulted in Brent Lillibridge's homer. Braden has his strikeout stuff working tonight, getting whiffs not only on his Bugs Bunny change, but only on his fastball, which hit the upper eighties many times on the TV gun. He managed to get his change down as low as 68, too, which is pretty remarkable -- how many guys who throw 88 get 20 mph of separation on their pitches?
I'm burying the lede here, of course, because who wants to admit that a win was lucky? The A's move into Tuesday with a 4-6 record if not for Juan Pierre getting completely eaten up by a high fly to the warning track in the ninth by Daric Barton. The error was wind-aided for sure, but it was also a play that a lot of fielders make a lot of the time. It looked to me like a combination of a too-casual approach (rather than sprinting to the spot and waiting for the ball, Pierre drifted), wind (part of what kept Pierre drifting was the ball drifting further and further left than it should have), and a slight stumble as Pierre transitioned from the outfield grass to the warning track, which stumble was unfortunately for him timed with the arrival of the baseball.
Still, all that provided the A's was the tying run -- they still had to win the game, and Kurt Suzuki + the Cell combined to achieve that. How many parks would Suzuki's line-drive go-ahead homer have left? His hit was a solid double in Oakland for sure, and a lot of other parks besides. That's not to take anything away from Suzuki, who absolutely scalded the mistake pitch by Jesse Crain. It's just important to note that in many other situations, the A's would've still needed some help from Kevin Kouzmanoff to win this game in the tenth.
One thing to keep an eye on going forward is that Brian Fuentes has now pitched three days in a row. I can't imagine he'll be available for Tuesday's game, which I assume makes Grant Balfour the closer. Much as I applaud Bob Geren's bullpen management in Game 8, my guess is that Balfour will not be pitching in any one-run, seventh-inning situations on Tuesday. Be prepared, then, for a Craig Breslow or Jerry Blevins or Brad Ziegler blow-up to lose the game for the A's tomorrow while Grant Balfour sits around waiting for the save that never comes.
Box & notes
The obvious Offensive Player of the Game is Kurt Suzuki1, who not only gave the A's the lead, but made his big contribution on purpose. (Compare Daric Barton, whose role in the proceedings is illustrated by his negative wRAA and his large positive WPA, which is, as ever, a naive story stat -- it's just taking the difference in game states from one move to the next, not assigning credit or blame for the plays. This is, of course, not a criticism -- I understand what I'm getting into with this thing.)
Still, honorable mention to Andy LaRoche, who smoked a double on a mistake slider by Matt Thornton, setting up Juan Pierre's ghastly error on Daric Barton's fly. LaRoche also played more solid defense than you might expect, filling in admirably for Cliff Pennington and not, in my estimation, failing to make any plays that Sir Cliff would have made. (The one possibility was on a hot shot by Juan Pierre that LaRoche stabbed but was unable to complete as Pierre beat the throw to first base. LaRoche's arm is not really at issue, though, and the play was made by Pierre's speed. Unless we believe that Pennington would've been positioned in such a way that he would not have had to dive (I don't), the A's lost nothing with LaRoche in on defense, and possible gained on offense.)
Of course, this isn't necessarily going to hold true over the course of the season, so let's not get too excited about LaRoche just yet. Don't forget what kind of teams he washed out of before landing with the A's.
Conor Jackson is the A's third-best right-fielder defensively, and might even be fourth-best if Josh Willingham could do a more adequate job out there than he can. He got victimized by a Carlos Quentin line drive in the fourth, taking a step in before realizing it was going back over his head, ultimately letting it tip off his glove for a double. Fortunately for the A's, Paul Konerko was on first base for the hit, not an actual athlete, so he was only able to get to third base rather than breaking the scoreless tie at that point. Much as David DeJesus has made a questionable play or two in right so far this year, he's vastly superior to Jackson, so I hope this lefty platoon thing Bob Geren has going isn't a strict situation.
I covered Dallas Braden in the introduction, and I have nothing to add. His stuff was on and he made very few mistakes. Every A's pitcher gets helped by his defense sometimes, but Braden was actually victimized by Conor Jackson's gaffe in right. He worked around the jam that play created, though, keeping runs off the scoreboard by getting Alexei Ramirez to hit an ugly squibby grounder to Mark Ellis to end the inning.
Tyson Ross was Tyson Ross. His fastball has heat, his slider has break, his change has fade, and he has no idea where any of these things are going to go from one pitch to the next. Why Kurt Suzuki even bothers setting up on one corner or another is beyond me. You see Ross's decent 28/41 strike percentage above, but what you don't see is his 2/41 percentage of pitches that hit the catcher's target (rough estimate, margin of error plus or minus two).
Brent Morel basically bailed Ross out in the ninth, with a 1-1 game and runners on second and third. Ross threw a good fastball to get ahead 0-1, then followed with two sliders, the second even further than the first, and Morel whiffed on both. The first pitch was perhaps close enough that one could be fooled. The second was inexcusable for a major-league hitter.
Brian Fuentes was all over the place on the first two batters. His wildness is a little less extreme than Tyson Ross's, but it hardly qualifies as a calming influence on me in a close game. Still, he struck out each of those two, so all's well that ends well.
Speaking of sayings, the best part of the broadcast was Glen Kuiper (who I've been calling Greg Papa for years now, and I just now realized what an idiot I've been) and Ray Fosse cracking up over Ray asking "Now, what's an iced tea + lemonade? A Roy Rogers?"
Standings: (2) Barton; (2) Crisp; (2) Ellis; (2) Willingham; (1) Suzuki; (1) Matsui ↩