By Jason Wojciechowski on August 3, 2011 at 10:30 AM
Felix Hernandez happened. He threw strikes on the inside corner and the outside corner, at the knees and at the belt, with his fastball, with his changeup, and even with his breaking pitches. He got whiffs and he got strikes looking. He also walked three A's and gave up a homer, but he was so dominant otherwise that this only added up to two runs.
The A's loaded the bases with one out in the eighth against Jeff Gray, helped partially by a panicked throw Gray himself made to third that pulled Adam Kennedy off the bag and allowed Hideki Matsui to slide in safely (he should've just throw to first, leaving runners on second and third with two out). He whiffed Kurt Suzuki and Eric Sogard to get out of the jam, though.
Rich Harden was pretty good, but a rough first inning (single, walk, double = two runs) and a Casper Wells blast on a hanging change in the sixth doomed him to the loss.
The play everyone will talk about was the Brendan Ryan single in the first. He hit a grounder deep into the 5-6 hole. Eric Sogard made a nifty backhand play and attempted a long throw, but it was late and off the line a little. Ryan ran through the bag. Conor Jackson, with Ryan behind him, started walking toward the mound to flip the ball to Rich Harden. Ryan, though, realized that nobody was at second and that he could run past Jackson without him noticing, so he took off. Scott Sizemore saw this happen and ran toward second, but didn't arrive anywhere near in time.
At this point, the play was unfortunate -- Sizemore or Sogard should have been at second because Jemile Weeks was running toward first to back up in case Sogard's throw went wide and flew into foul territory.
Sizemore, though, put his head down, not seeing until it was too late what Ryan had already noticed: nobody was at third base. He took off again, with Conor Jackson still holding the ball, and got there before anyone could cover. Sizemore should have recognized that nobody was at third once Ryan slid safely into second. Sogard, who I don't believe ended up anywhere near second, should have covered third once Sizemore vacated. In the absence of any position players, Rich Harden should have covered -- I still have no idea where he was.
Kurt Suzuki, thank goodness, had rushed back to the plate to make sure Ryan didn't score.
In the end, four out of the six players in the infield messed this up. It's possible that Jemile Weeks was out of position as well, given whatever backup schemes the A's run, but I don't think so -- he looked like he was running with a purpose to a spot. By the time Ryan took off, Weeks was in a position to play baseball cornerback, essentially -- he would have had to run alongside Ryan, or just ahead of him, make a catch on the fly, and apply a tag. Jackson probably would've thrown the ball into right field. The only other player who did his job was Kurt Suzuki. Every other member of the infield blew it.
|Matsui (LF)||4||3||2B, 1B x 2|
|Sweeney (RF)||4||3||BB, 1B x 2|
Jemile Weeks had an awful game, not hitting anything even resembling a hard grounder or a line drive in his five trips despite having hitter's counts his first three times up (3-0, 2-1, 1-0).
Coco Crisp comes out with the same box score line as Weeks, but his first at-bat ended in a fly ball to deep center that I thought might get out off the bat. Franklin Gutierrez settled under it on the warning track, though. He also hit a hard one-hopper in the sixth, but it went right to Justin Smoak, who blocked it with his chest and then flipped to Felix for the out.
Hideki Matsui is on fire. All three of his hits were hard balls, two of them liners and one a grounder up the middle. The pitches he hit didn't look perfect from Felix or Jeff Gray, but they weren't hangers, either.
Josh Willingham made contact with the first pitch Jeff Gray threw in the eighth, which is mainly notable because he'd struck out three times already by that point. It actually wasn't a bad pitch to go swinging at -- a fastball elevated a little more than Gray probably meant to. The result was a fly ball to Ichiro down the RF line, unfortunately.
Ryan Sweeney hit a couple of Ryan Sweeney line drives, and his eight-inning single was very close to get in to the left-center gap (which would have scored Hideki Matsui from first and put a runner in scoring position with a 4-3 deficit and one man out), but Casper Wells got over just in the nick of time to backhand the ball and keep everyone to one base. Inches, I tell you, inches.
Conor Jackson was entirely unable to make up for his lack of alertness in the first inning with the bat.
Kurt Suzuki was hit on the arm by a pitch in the eight inning. Unfortunately, he was in the process of swinging at it when this happened. Baseball players are allowed to do this if they are 40-homer threats. They are not allowed to do this if they have a .250 TAv and PECOTA thinks that's actually a little above what they'll be hitting the rest of the year.
Suzuki is not actually a horrible baseball player, but my gosh, his swings sometimes make me mad.
Eric Sogard's single to center ahead of Scott Sizemore's homer was legit. Very little else in his game is.
Scott Sizemore's homer was, per Hit Tracker Online, one of the best shots hit off of Felix Hernandez this year. It was the only one Felix has given up to center field, and it comes in second only to a Jacoby Ellsbury bomb in "True Distance" and speed off the bat. Impressive all around, really.
Coco Crisp showed Ryan Sweeney how to deal with a sinking liner, making a diving (not sliding) catch coming in on an Ichiro near-hit in the third inning.
The geniuses in the CSN booth then cut to this Ichiro doppelganger in the stands shaking his head ruefully. Ray 'n' Glen had been talking about the guy for the last few innings, so this was a great cut.
Hilariously, by the way, it was Ichiro #2 who interfered with a baseball just two batters later, reaching on to the field to grab what he thought was a foul ball but was actually a fair grounder down the right-field line that Conor Jackson deflected over toward the stands. He looked genuinely anguished when he was informed of what he had done. Amazingly, after what was apparently a long discussion with like seven security dudes at the top of the stairs, they let him stay in the game in his same seat.
That Ackley play, by the way, was nonsense. The umpires ruled that Ackley would have reached third had the fan not interfered, so they gave him third. I think home fan interference should result in a penalty of sorts for the home team -- unless Ackley was a dead lock for third, he should have only been awarded second. In the reverse situation, if it were, say, Eric Sogard, if the umpire thought he had even a reasonable shot at third, he should be given the base.
Rich Harden made yet another A's pitcher error in the fifth, uncorking a very high throw to first on Brendan Ryan's check-swing grounder. Conor Jackson made a leaping catch to keep it to a one-base error, which was pretty miraculous. Out of Harden's hand, I thought the ball was going to end up six feet over Jackson's head.
|De Los Santos||4/5||4/17/26||0/3||2||0||0|
Rich Harden was frequently awesome, getting multiple swinging strikes in five of the six innings he pitched (and in the fifth, while he didn't get "multiple", he still got one), locating his fastball, getting movement on his changeup, and generally looking like a reasonable facsimile of himself. He'll never be RICH HARDEN again, sure, though that's maybe on us and the breath we're constantly holding that he'll get hurt on the very next pitch he throws, but he can still be fun to watch and effective.
This isn't to say he was perfect -- the change to Casper Wells for a homer was left up and didn't have nearly enough movement, and Mike Carp's first-inning double also came on a change that didn't do enough changing. He made a few other mistake pitches that didn't, for either BABIP or sequence reasons, actually cost the team any runs, but all I'm saying now is "he wasn't perfect," and since when was that the standard?
Fautino De Los Santos vs. Dustin Ackley in the seventh was a fun battle, a twelve-pitch at-bat that ended in a swinging strikeout on a fastball that De Los Santos basically blew past Ackley.
Hey Brian Fuentes. How you doin'.
Bob Melvin came out to argue the Dustin Ackley "triple" I described above. Baseball manager win rates vs. umpires being what they are, though ...
Come on, A's! Let's get one!