By Jason Wojciechowski on August 26, 2004 at 5:27 PM
I got to watch the end of the A's game last night, from about the fifth inning on, and there were two blessings.
As I noted yesterday, both starting pitchers have the capacity for brilliance, and both pitchers lived up to that billing in the evening. Rich Harden threw eight innings, giving up just four hits and a walk while striking out five and keeping the Orioles off the scoreboard. Bruce Chen, meanwhile, didn't allow a hit until the sixth inning and ended up pitching seven scoreless, giving up three hits and four walks. With both starters breezing, the game moved rather quickly, eventually ending in 2:25.
The other blessing, of course, was Marco Scutaro's three-run game-winning homer with two men out in the bottom of the ninth. The hit came against a guy who's been one of the best relievers in the American Leauge this year, BJ Ryan. Ryan had struck out Scott Hatteberg and Erubiel Durazo already in the ninth, and made both look a little foolish doing it, before he gave up a sharp single up the middle to Damian Miller. Bobby Crosby then showed us all why he's so special, working a walk against a tough pitcher while he's in the midst of an atrocious slump. In his last nine games, Crosby's gone ofer seven times, and he doesn't have a hit against Orioles pitchers yet this year. So his walk was crucial and heroic, setting up little Marco (or, if you believe ESPN's announcers, "Mario") Scutaro to blast a high fastball well out of BJ Surhoff's reach in the left-field stands.
The A's had almost broken the game open in the bottom of the seventh, when Miller and Crosby walked with two outs. Scutaro then hit a grounder toward the shortstop hole that Miguel Tejada made an excellent play on, but his throw short-hopped Rafael Palmeiro a little bit, and Scutaro was on with an infield single, loading the bases. Mark Kotsay then worked a 3-1 count and got a fastball down the middle that he smoked toward right, only to see Jay Gibbons run it down on the warning track. Kotsay stood at first with a bit of a thousand-yard stare, wondering whether anything was destined to fall in for the A's this day.
The eighth was uneventful for both teams, as Rich Harden didn't let a batter put a ball in fair territory, getting a foul pop and two strikeouts, and BJ Ryan put the A's down 1-2-3, with Eric Chavez going down second on a fastball that looked to be about a foot off the plate and low.
In the ninth, Octavio Dotel relieved, and I scooted forward to the edge of the futon. No, he hadn't given up a run in over 13 innings, but he's a typical Oakland closer: his nickname ought to be White Knuckles.
Dotel got hot-hitting David Newhan to ground out to Scutaro, who made a pretty good throw without being able to get fully behind the ball, as Newhan was really hustling down the line. Melvin Mora then lined a base hit to center, setting up a tough confrontation with Miguel Tejada. The new Oriole shortstop ended up blasting a fastball high and deep that would have made me cry had it not settled into Eric Byrnes's glove just in front of the big out-of-town scoreboard the A's have in left field. With this tension relieved, of course, a professional hitter still loomed, and a ball in the gap was all BJ Surhoff would need to break the scoreless tie.
Marco Scutaro, though, made an excellent play on Surhoff's ground ball, ranging far to his left, sliding to his knees to grab the grounder, spinning in the direction his momentum was carrying him, and making a timely and accurate peg to Hatteberg at first to get Surhoff by a step.
Depending on how this AL West race pans out, Scutaro may be remembered as one of the heroes of the year for this team, which is rather sad given that Mark Ellis is due back next year and is almost a lock to put some distance between his line and Scutaro's .278/.303/.389 numbers. That's the way baseball goes, though: one year's heroes are another year's utility men.
The Angels still haven't managed to lose a game in awhile, beating the Royals 21-6 (ouch!) to win their eighth straight. While this is certainly disheartening, we can take the positive view and note that the A's are still in first place despite a strong second place team having gone on a great hot streak, including rolling right through the Yankees, who were supposed to be the ones to slow them down. Ramon Ortiz had the down day I asked for, giving up six runs in six innings, but Cal Pickering had just one hit, a single (his first single of the year!), and it ended up being ex-Athletic Jeff DaVanon pulling a Pickering, hitting for the cycle.
Boston predictably beat Toronto as Josh Towers was as bad as advertised and Curt Schilling as good. Terry Adams did his best to sink the Red Sox, giving up four runs in 1.1 relief innings, but Boston was already winning 11-1 before those runs started pouring in.
Texas nearly pulled out another win against Joe Nathan and the Twins, going to the ninth down three, but loading the bases with two out before Laynce Nix flew out to deep center to end the game. Ryan Drese got the ground ball outs that he's gotten all year (8-2 ratio), but he also gave up thirteen hits and seven runs in 3.2 innings. Kyle Lohse also got smacked around, though, giving up five runs in five innings, so this game was left to the bullpen. That's a battle the Twins will win every time.
The standings, then, have the A's half a game up on Anaheim and Boston and 2.5 ahead of the Rangers.
First, look for me on ESPN at the Padres-Mets tilt at 1:10. I'll be there!
Anyway, Daniel Cabrera goes up against Barry Zito today. Cabrera is young (23) and big (6'7", 230 pounds). That seems to be pretty much what he has going for him. He doesn't strike guys out (4.6 K/9), he's got just one more strikeout than walk on the year, and his ERA stands at 4.67. John Sickels and Baseball America paint the picture of a guy with amazing stuff (high-mid-90's heat, great break on his slider) who can't harness it. BA goes so far as to say, though, that his problems were due to mechanics. If that's true, and if Ray Miller has helped the young man figure things out, the A's could be in for a long night. If he hasn't figured things out, though, you could see an eight-walk game for Oakland.
As much as Zito has struggled, he's still got a K/BB ratio twice as good as Cabrera's. Zito's trouble has been the gopher ball, as he's given up a homer every seven innings, or basically one per start. You'd think that playing the game in Oakland could help that, but he's actually given up one more homer in six fewer innings at home, so perhaps the Oakland home-run effect isn't so great.
As with any game started by Zito, this one's a toss-up.
Texas gets Minnesota again, with Chan Ho Park's rotting carcass going up against the re-animated corpse of Terry Mulholland. If I had to pick who wins this one, I guess I'd have to go with ... Bruce Campbell.
Boston moves on from Toronto, heading home to face off against the Tigers. Jason Johnson goes against Bronson Arroyo in the opener. Johnson's been exactly what everyone figured him for: 4.5 ERA, middling strikeout rate, ok walk rate, a few too many homers, but nothing drastic ... pretty much the most boring, league average pitcher you could come up with. Of course, that makes him a superstar on the Tiger staff.
Arroyo's much more interesting. He's got an ERA of 4.29, but that hides 17 unearned runs, so his RA is about 5.4. However, it's hard to see where those runs are coming from. He strikes out seven batters per nine while walking two and a half, gives up a homer every ten innings or so, and allows less than a hit an inning. He gives up more fly balls than you might like, but his GB/FB ratio is still a little bit over one. Here's something! Maybe it's the 120 point OPS jump when runners get on base. But maybe that's normal?
Apparently not. The other four starters on the team average a drop of 8.5 points of OPS with runners on. The conclusion the Tigers have to draw from this is that they have to get runners on base if they want to score.
Which is, happily enough, the conclusion that every team in the league came to a long time ago. Except Montreal, that is.
Boston wins this game going away.