By Jason Wojciechowski on April 23, 2011 at 5:30 PM
Catchup post #2!
This game wasn't nearly as fun for A's fans as Game 17 had been, as Gio Gonzalez couldn't translate missing bats to keeping runs off the board and the Red Sox insisted on hitting multiple balls out of the yard. Worse, though, were the A's twelve hits and five walks translating to just three runs. The major scoring opportunities:
In the sixth, Ryan Sweeney led things off with a double, went to third on a ground ball, and saw the next two batters walk. Terry Francona wisely chose this moment to employ his bullpen weapon, Daniel Bard, who promptly struck out Cliff Pennington and got a popup out of Coco Crisp.
It wasn't all failure on the part of the A's, though, because Crisp, on a 1-0 count, got a fastball elevated on the outside corner and lined it down the left field line. Bard's velocity, though, caused him to be just the millisecond late on the pitch that pushed the ball foul by about two inches. Had the ball skipped on the line, the bases would surely have cleared, tying the game at four.
In the eighth, the A's earned a walk and three singles against Bobby Jenks, cutting the lead to three. The bases were thus loaded with one out, but Jenks struck out Daric Barton on a curve away and Jonathan Papelbon whiffed David DeJesus on a splitter down. Just like that, the threat was over, and the A's had scored just once for their troubles.
Finally, in the ninth, Hideki Matsui started things off with a soft single. After an out, Mark Ellis was gifted with a two-strike hit-by-pitch. Landon Powell, who I'm convinced is a better offensive option than Kurt Suzuki at this point, then ripped a ball into right center. Unfortunately for the A's, Jacoby Ellsbury did a great job ranging over to keep the ball from getting to the wall. That, combined with Landon Powell's girth, kept him to a single and, more importantly, held Mark Ellis at third. The score was thus 5-3 with the tying run at first rather than 5-4 with that run at second. Josh Willingham and Cliff Pennington popped out to end the game, and maybe they'd have done that anyway, but who knows.
The A's, then, lost their scoring opportunities through a combination of ineptitude, good pitching by the Red Sox, a great play by Jacoby Ellsbury, and a little bad luck down the foul line. Oakland will have games where these things work out for them, but they'll also have plenty of games where they never even create these opportunities for themselves due to their general offensive malaise. I only wish they could have taken advantage of a solid day with the bats to actually create a victory.
Box & Notes
Rickey Runs are supposed to involve a walk, two steals, and a sac fly, or some variation on that theme, but don't forget that Rickey had serious power and holds the record, such as it is, for game-opening homers. I think we can count Coco Crisp's homer here, then, as that other kind of Rickey Run, even if Crisp's shot wasn't exactly a bomb -- it was more of a line drive that skipped off the top of the low wall in right field. Not that you'll hear my complaining.
Besides the homer and the RBI single in the eighth, Crisp hit two balls hard, one for an out and one the near game-tying hit discussed above. Combine those "almost"'s with a team-leading wRAA and you've got Game 18's Offensive Player of the Game.1
Hideki Matsui managed to reach base three times in the game without hitting the ball hard a single time. Hard, of course, is relative. The whole point of having strength like Matsui does is that when he doesn't get all of a ball, he might bloop it for a hit rather than popping it within reach of an infielder. The point remains that Matsui hasn't squared the ball up as often as A's fans have been hoping he will, but his 99 wRC+ thus far (through the time of this writing, i.e. including two games of the Seattle series that followed this Boston one), while not championship-caliber, isn't a total failure, either.
Much as I rip on him, I'm starting to feel for Kevin Kouzmanoff. Forget the trade rumors and the free agent chases by the A's. At this point, he's being pinch-hit for at every reasonable opportunity by Bob Geren, which, for a guy already prone to chasing after every pitch under the sun, probably only exacerbates what's apparently his natural tendency to press.
This isn't to say that I don't want Geren to treat him this way. In the sixth, when Conor Jackson pinch-hit for him, Jackson walked on a changeup just away that Kouzmanoff likely would have chased. (Not that he'd have gotten the same pitches Jackson got, but you get the idea.)
David DeJesus made two terrific defensive plays. He first took away a double or triple from Jed Lowrie down the right-field line, leaping at the wall and crashing into it, the placement of his glove clearly indicating that the ball would have hit the top of the wall a few inches fair had he not made the play. In the eighth, he victimized Lowrie again, this time turning a foul ball into an out with a tremendous sliding catch near the wall about 2/3 of the way down the line in right field.
Unfortunately, the play he just missed was the biggest of all, as he came just a foot or two from robbing J.D. Drew's homer in the seventh. The ball was reachable, just getting over the fence in right, but it was hit on a line, so DeJesus had no time to get to the wall and camp under it -- he had to race back and make a leap, and just got there a bit late. A little different positioning, a quarter-second better jump, and maybe that's an out instead of a Red Sox run.
Mark Ellis made an uncharacteristic error in the fourth, dropping a potential double-play ball, turning the chance for two outs into none. With Jed Lowrie on first, Marco Scutaro hit a grounder up the middle. Cliff Pennington made a great diving stop and flipped to Ellis. Unfortunately, Ellis started anticipating the double play and didn't ensure that he caught the throw from Sir Cliff, so it squirted out of his glove and everyone was safe.
Gio Gonzalez did get two more ground balls after this play, though, the first a fielder's choice from Carl Crawford (because of his speed) and the second finally ending up a 5-4-3 double play off Jason Varitek's bat.
Gio Gonzalez had an inconsistent game. In the first inning, he recorded two strikeouts and a fly ball on an intentionally high fastball. Then in the second, he gave up a line-drive single to Kevin Youkilis, a long out to Jed Lowrie, a line drive single to Marco Scutaro, and a line drive single to Carl Crawford on a curve that hung a little before striking out Jason Varitek. Landon Powell threw out Crawford on that strikeout, so Gonzalez got out of the inning while really only creating one out of his own.
Not going through every inning in detail, we can still summarize: the third inning was 75% great; the first half of the fourth was awful, the second half great; the fifth was excellent; the sixth was 50% good and 50% terrible (including the Lowrie homer on a floating curve).
Nine strikeouts and just one walk says a lot, especially for Gonzalez, who had six of each in his last start, but he gave up too many hard-hit balls interspersed with those strikeouts to win this game.
Jerry Blevins gave J.D. Drew and Dustin Pedroia pitches to hit, but he got Adrian Gonzalez on a double-play after a great sequences, going away away away but getting the strike zone so that the big first baseman had to be on the defensive late in the at-bat.
David Purcey's A's debut was solid. He was helped by his defense in the eighth, but looked impressive whiffing Crawford and Varitek in the ninth and getting Ellsbury down 0-2 before popping up. (On the other hand, that's Jason Varitek plus two guys not known for hitting lefties, and the three he had a little more trouble with were the stronger trio of Youkilis, Lowrie, and Scutaro. On a team with all those lefties in the bullpen, Purcey's probably not going to be the one that Geren goes to as a specialist.)
Standings: (4) Ellis; (3) Barton, Crisp; (2) Suzuki, Willingham; (1) DeJesus, Jackson, Matsui, Pennington. ↩