By Jason Wojciechowski on July 9, 2011 at 3:00 PM
Not all three-run losses are the same. This was the kind where the winning team jumps out to a huge lead, adds a couple of runs later on, and watches the losing team chip away but shoot itself in the foot as it attempts to make its comeback. It was, in other words, entirely frustrating.
The first inning was an unmitigated disaster for the A's on pitching, defense, and luck: Gio Gonzalez gave up two hard hit singles and a launched grand-slam homer to Mike Napoli; Adam Rosales, starting at shortstop, let an inning-ending double-play ball go under his glove into left field (this happened before any Ranger runs scored, so the A's were that close to being 0-0 after one inning instead of 5-0); and a trickler by Michael Young down the 3B line just stayed fair all the way until it hit the bag -- if it's foul, Gio Gonzalez gets another shot to get him out; if it's hit a little differently, the A's may get at least one out; instead, the bases load up with one out for Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli.
The A's answered with a run in the second, a Scott Sizemore homer to left, but the Rangers came back with two solo shots in the bottom half. A 7-1 lead after two innings ends pretty much any game, much less one that Oakland is involved in.
Texas scored its eighth run off of Brad Ziegler in the fifth on a double and a single.
Meanwhile, the A's loaded the bases with nobody out in the fourth, but got just one run when Conor Jackson hit into a double play, scored two solid runs in the sixth (single, steal, wild pitch, single, double) and thus went to the ninth with a four-run deficit. Ron Washington, as is his wont, called on his closer, Neftali Feliz. The flamethrower promptly walked Conor Jackson and gave up a solid ground-ball single to Ryan Sweeney. Kurt Suzuki then worked a full count before taking a fastball down low for a walk, loading the bases and prompting a visit to the mound by the Texas pitching coach with Adam Rosales and the top of the A's order coming up.
Wait, what? That's not what happened? Suzuki chased the low fastball and hit a grounder perfectly set up for a 6-3 double play, scoring the run but destroying Oakland's rally? Darn.
Jemile Weeks hit one ball quite hard, causing center-fielder Craig Gentry to make a jumping catch into the wall (not at full speed, but a jumping catch nonetheless) in straight-away center. Sure, in Oakland's night air, the ball probably wouldn't even have reached the warning track, but still, it's nice to see that Weeks does have a little bit of power in his skinny frame.
David DeJesus had a bunt single and a steal, doing his best Coco Crisp impression, something he hasn't done a ton of this year (with just three steals, for instance).
Coco Crisp's single was of the infield variety, a chopper into the hole that many shortstops might have let into left, but Elvis Andrus backhanded and made a jump-throw that was a little too late to get Crisp. Were the batter someone not blessed with Coco's speed, Andrus might have actually recorded an out on the play, a remarkable feat given how far in the hole the ball was.
Crisp also worked a walk against C.J. Wilson and another against Tommy Hunter, both on just five pitches.
Josh Willingham hit a couple of line drives, one a softer one with a lot of top-spin for a single and the other a harder one pulled toward the left-field line for a double. Willingham hasn't been what the A's have hoped for this year, but, of the guys who were on the squad on Opening Day (i.e. excluding Scott Sizemore and Jemile Weeks), he's the best hitter by a fair amount. He is, in fact, by wRC+, the only above-average hitter of the Opening Day group.
Scott Sizemore's homer in the second inning wasn't hit as hard as Mike Napoli's bomb (HitTracker says 384 feet and 102.9 mph off the bat, compared with 410 and 106.2 for Napoli), but it was still clearly gone off the bat -- Josh Hamilton turned and took a few steps, but gave up pretty quickly.
After Sizemore walked in the fourth, he slid very hard into Ian Kinsler on Conor Jackson's double play ball. The slide was very near the bag, but it was also quite late, as Kinsler was attempting to use the bag to shield himself from the runner. Sizemore half-upended the Ranger second baseman, who did a little dance to avoid falling down. It all looked fairly unremarkable to me, though I did notice in real time that was a pretty hard slide, but Ray Fosse noted that Kinsler had a few words for Sizemore after the play. Sadly, CSN didn't give us a replay to show what those words might have been, and the rest of the game, despite not being terribly close, didn't result in any antics of the brush-back pitch or unnecessarily hard slide type, so I don't know if anyone's holding any grudges. Still, this might be worth keeping an eye on over the last two games of the series.
Conor Jackson did walk against Neftali Feliz in the ninth, but his double play in the fourth decimated a rally and his sixth-inning strikeout on three pitches, after the A's had scored two runs and still had Josh Willingham on second, was downright pitiful.
Ryan Sweeney did Ryan Sweeney things, up to and including his hard ground-ball single into right field in the ninth.
Kurt Suzuki did a nice job working from 0-2 to a walk in the third inning, but spent the rest of the game doing what he does, which is mainly swinging at pitcher's pitches, resulting in bad counts and weak contact.
Adam Rosales reached base on a hit-by-pitch and hit a hard grounder to Michael Young at third to end the game.
CSN did a nice job illustrating the difference between Brad Ziegler's hesitation in his last outing on a throw to second, turning a potential double-play ball into a mere fielder's choice, and his confidence in this game on the same play, leading his shortstop to the bag with this throw, giving Adam Rosales plenty of time to make the relay to first to get the second out.
Kurt Suzuki let Nelson Cruz steal second on him in the third inning, as he took just an extra fraction of a second on the transfer from glove to hand, appearing to fumble the grip a bit. Assuming he'd have made the same good throw with a clean transfer, there's a pretty good chance Cruz would have been out.
Jemile Weeks made a couple of plays on hard ground balls in his area, which is more than Adam Rosales can say. As Ray Fosse said after Rosales let a second grounder go under his glove on an attempted backhand, "I don't understand why he's not getting in front of the ball." Me neither, Ray.
Gio Gonzalez just didn't have it. His curve was in the dirt, not inducing swings, forcing him to come in with the fastball, and the Rangers hitters were waiting for it. Gonzalez whiffed Nelson Cruz with a 95 mph pitch right down the middle with the bases loaded and one out in the first, but Mike Napoli then took a similar challenge fastball (a little higher, a little more in, but still) for a ride and gave the Rangers a nearly insurmountable lead.
Gonzalez's stat line indicates the value, by the way, of per-plate-appearance stats rather than per-inning stats. Five strikeouts in four innings is really good for a starting pitcher. That would lead the league if he kept it up all year. Five strikeouts in 23 batters, by contrast, is a fine rate, the kind of rate that Jered Weaver is putting up on the season, but not one that causes eyes to pop.
Three homers can't be mitigated by any change in denominator, though.
Brad Ziegler did leave a ball a little bit too elevated to Mike Napoli, who had a monster game, but the Yorvit Torrealba single that drove him in, while well-struck, came on a ball that Ziegler had a chance to snag -- I don't think he missed it by more than a few inches.
I thought Michael Wuertz's pitch for a Mike Napoli double was much worse than Brad Ziegler's, and I also think that Wuertz should count his blessings that it wasn't hit out of the park, because it looked off the bat like Napoli had crushed it.
Being a lefty sometimes means that you get to face Endy Chavez and then hit the showers. Nice job, Craig Breslow.
Welcome back, Grant Balfour. This was his first appearance after coming off the Disabled List and he looked fine, giving up only a well-struck ball to Josh Hamilton that nonetheless posed no real threat to the A's defense.
Bob Melvin got into it with the home-plate umpire a little bit (from the dugout) about the strike zone, a disagreement I agree with -- the zone seemed rather inconsistent, particularly on the low end, much of the night.
For once, this is going up before the next game actually starts. The pitching battle features Brandon McCarthy for the good guys and Colby Lewis for the bad. PITCHf/x, as served up by Texas Leaguers, has Lewis throwing a fastball from the mid 80s to the low 90s, a slider and a change in the low 80s, and a curve in the mid 70s. Right-handed batters will see almost exclusively the four-seamer and the slider (52% and 34% respectively) and can pretty much write off the curve, while lefties get a bigger assortment: 45% fastballs, 15% sliders, 15% change, and 14% curves.
The data has him throwing a cutter 5% of the time, but I wonder whether Lewis simply varies the amount of horizontal movement he's applying to his fastball, and at the extreme end of that, the pitch is classified as a cutter. The velocity of the cutters is the same as that of the regular fastball.
In any case, Lewis hasn't been terrifically effective this year: his homer rate is astronomical, he's striking out fewer batters, and he hasn't cut his walk rate enough to make up the difference.