A's lose ALDS Game One, 3-1
I haven't written a game story in goodness-knows how long. I've forgotten how to do this.
The A's, a team with contact issues, were facing the Tigers on a cold night in Detroit with Justin Verlander on the mound. This was, then, a game the A's could not be favored in, no matter Verlander's playoff history (5.57 ERA in 42 innings, with seven homers being a particular problem), no matter that in a normal year, Jarrod Parker would be talked about as a Cy Young candidate, no matter than the A's were third in baseball in scoring after the All-Star break.
And yet, when the final score is 3-1, and when Coco Crisp leads the game off with a homer just over the fence in the right field corner, and when the Tigers runs score the way they did, I think we're entirely justified in being frustrated over the outcome.
So how did the Tigers score their runs? Glad you asked!
First inning, Tigers down 1-0
Third inning, 1-1 score
Fifth inning, 2-1 Tigers
To sum up: the Tigers BABIP'd the A's to death in the first; got one legit hit and one error on a weak squibby squubber in the third; and hit a legit (opposite-field) homer in the fifth.
Parker was not as sharp as we've seen him, but he was plenty sharp enough, tossing a few filthy changes that made Tiger hitters look silly along with his usual fastball. It was enough to get him into the seventh with a runs-allowed number that was good enough to win.
The offense, on the other hand, just looked terrible. Stephen Drew had a nice double. Seth Smith worked a pretty at-bat for a walk. Cliff Pennington hit a sharp grounder on a hanging curve for a single. That was about it outside of Crisp's homer. There were lots of whiffs. Lots of whiffs. ESPN counted 21 for Verlander, three for Joaquin Benoit, and five more for Jose Valverde. That's 29 in total out of 146 pitches, a rate close to 20 percent. The league rate, per FanGraphs, was 9.1 percent. Verlander notched an 11.7 percent rate.
The A's, of course, do whiff a lot. Brandon Moss trades off whiffs for power. So does Yoenis Cespedes. Josh Donaldson trades off whiffs for me getting really mad at him. It's been working for them, and the people shouting about how the team has to make contact are, I suspect, mainly the people wedded to the idea that a strikeout is a bad bad bad thing.
The thing is, how close did it come to working out? Brandon Moss, with a runner on and the A's down by two, hit a high fly to right field in the eighth that was caught on the warning track. But not just on the warning track. At the back of the warning track. Like, with the right fielder backed up against the wall. (Here's the MLB.com video.) If it was two feet (or, as I joked on Twitter, 0.32 Altuves) from being a homer, how many millimeters was it on the bat?
And if that ball does go out and the A's manage to win the game, do we care in the least about a 20 percent whiff rate? Of course not. Sometimes things are just that close, and as much as we've been used to these things going the A's way all year, baseball has a way of biting you like that. It happens.
One quick note on the 2-3 format, which was forced into action this year by the fact that MLB implemented the two–wild card system so late that they couldn't set up the entire schedule to fit it. I hate you, baseball, for putting the A's in a position tomorrow where they have to win against an inferior team in that inferior team's home park in order to avoid facing three straight elimination games. Because what? Because you were too goddamned impatient to put off implementing the second wild card until 2013. I hate you.
But let's end on a positive note, or as positive a note as we can given the context of what I'm about to say. Pat Neshek, who, as you know, recently lost his 23-hour-old son for no apparent reason, pitched in the seventh inning with two runners on and one man out. It's the kind of situation Neshek was put on this earth to face, but it's still mind-boggling that he was out there throwing. Even more mind-boggling: He got a ground ball that very nearly turned into a double play, but resulted instead in a fielder's choice, then whiffed the next hitter easily. The jam was over, as it has been so many times before, but of course this wasn't like any of those times. He patted his "GJN" patch (Gehrig John Neshek) that the A's are wearing in his honor/memory on his way off the field and seemed to be fighting back tears. The fans at home, if Twitter is any indication, were not nearly so successful at keeping it in. Frankly, I'm not doing so hot myself as I write this. I'm happy for Neshek that he was able to experience some professional success in the midst of dealing with his grief, and hope that it helps him in some small way.
Beaneball by Jason Wojciechowski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.