There’s a point in the season when you can feel the leverage shift. Scoreboard watching begins in earnest. I pump my fist at called strikes in 2-0 counts. A good game feels like something more – it feels like a playoff game. This was one of those games.
As the game started, it became immediately apparent that Angel Hernandez was calling the high strike. Two years ago, this would have been a major boon to David Price, but that’s not who he is anymore. Now Price works down and works the outside corner. A.J. Griffin, on the other hand, worked that high section of the zone for all it was worth. As an example, here’s how Griffin worked over Ryan Roberts with one out and two men on in the top of the fourth inning. After getting the first strike, Griffin threw a fastball up out of the zone, that Roberts was forced to swing (and miss) at on account of the previously established high strike. With that whiff fresh in Roberts’s mind, Griffin gave him a curve which started even higher, but then dropped into the top of the zone for called strike three. It was a bit of an unfair zone for the hitters, but kudos to the Athletics’ rookie recognizing and taking advantage.
That’s not to say that Price didn’t do his part. When last I recapped a game Price pitched, I talked about how he didn’t have great command of his fastball, but was able to lean on his secondary offerings piece together an impressive outing. This game was the inverse. Price rarely went to his changeup or curve, and when he did, they were inconsistent. Instead Price relied more heavily on his fastball and cutter than he has over the past several games, and he still managed to dominate. In seven innings, Price allowed three runs on five hits, two walks, and 11 strikeouts. No matter how he pitches, he’s amazing. Cy Young.
The A’s got on the board first in the second inning. Yoenis Cespedes, leading off the inning, sent a bouncer to third. Roberts made a good play on it, but Cespedes beat out his throw for an infield hit. This is not news, but for a pretty big man, Cespedes sure can move. In the next at bat, Chris Carter would line a double over the head of Roberts to score Cespedes. One strikeout later, Suzuki doubled in Carter to stretch the lead to two.
In the top of the fourth, immediately after A.J Griffin’s previously described dismantling of Ryan Roberts, Carlos Pena came to the plate with two outs and two men on. It’s funny, but since Keppinger’s gotten healthy, and Roberts has come over from the Diamondbacks, I think the Rays’ lineup may actually be better against lefties than righties. To succeed against right handed pitchers, they really need Pena and Joyce to produce, and today they did. Pena sent a fliner into the gap in right center for a two RBI double, tying the game.
Finally, in the sixth inning, the Rays batters seemed to start to figure out Griffin. Zobrist and Keppinger both took big swings that sent Oakland outfielders back to the wall. Joyce did them both a few feet better slamming a home run out to right center to nudge the Rays ahead.
In the bottom of the inning, trying to protect the newfound lead, Price ran into a little bit of trouble. Gomes started off the inning by flying out to the track. Next, Price got up 0-2 on Josh Reddick, but Reddick refused to give in, and battled back to a 3-2 count. Price sent a 97 fastball down and away, that Molina framed beautifully, surreptitiously bringing it in by about two inches for the backwards K. Pretty sure Price owes Molina a beer for that one. It was a good thing they got Reddick, because Cespedes sent another groundball to Ryan Roberts at third, and beat the throw to first again. Chris Carter walked, before Price blew away Inge on a 97 mph fastball to end the inning.
In the top of the seventh, the Rays threatened but shot themselves in the foot. Pena sent a grounder into the perfect spot in the shift between the second baseman and the shortstop to lead off the inning with an infield hit. Molina followed it up with a single into right, but Pena tried to go first to third on Reddick’s arm, and was nowhere close to making it. Next, with Sean Rodriguez batting, Jose Molina took off for second, and Suzuki threw him out easily. Rodriguez was swinging at a curve nearly in the dirt on the play, so maybe it was a hit and run (I hope it was a hit and run), but still, it was pretty ugly.
With Price at 102 pitches through six, Maddon sent him out for one more. It seemed like a good decision, as Price struck out Suzuki and Seth Smith to bring up the rarely dangerous Dan Hicks. Unfortunately, rarely dangerous is just another way of saying sometimes dangerous, and Hicks crushed a fastball against the scoreboard in right field for a game tying home run, dooming me to never sleep.
The remainder of regulation play passed uneventfully until Wade Davis was called on to pitch the bottom of the ninth. He struck out the first two batters before Suzuki sent a hard ground ball toward the hole by third. Ryan Roberts showed great range, cutting in front of the shortstop to make the play, then pirouetting, and throwing nowhere near first. I’m not sure the other infield hits were really Roberts’s fault, but altogether, I figure this is a defensive day he’ll wish to forget. Davis intentionally walked Seth Smith, and then unintentionally walked Brandon Moss (hitting for the rarely dangerous Dan Hicks) to load the bases. He redeemed himself by striking out Weeks looking on an inside fastball, after getting him to whiff on a high fastball. Like Griffin, Davis worked the top of that high zone quite well.
The Rays didn’t threaten in the top of the tenth, but McGee did keep it interesting in the bottom. Jonny Gomes started it off by bouncing yet another ball to Roberts, who made a good, rangey, diving stop on it, but couldn’t get Gomes with his throw. After McGee struck out Reddick, Cespedes sent a hard grounder back up toward the mound. McGee kicked at it, flipping it up to himself, and then calmly caught and threw to first. Next, he got into a 3-1 count against Carter before being told to intentionally walk him. Not as easy as it looks. McGee threw his intentional ball well over Lobaton, moving all the batters up. Next, McGee walked Inge to load the bases before striking out Suzuki to end the danger.
Howell was tasked with the eleventh after the Rays didn’t score yet again. He walked two, but struck out Reddick to end the inning. Badenhop pitched uneventful twelfth and thirteenth innings. Then, in the fourteenth, things got weird.
Zobrist and Keppinger lead off the inning with back to back singles against Jerry Blevins. With no outs, Maddon pulled Joyce in favor of the switch hitter Brooks Conrad. I get that Joyce carries a large platoon split, and that Blevins does too. Blevins absolutely murders left handed hitting. This is why Maddon made the switch. BUT BROOKS CONRAD IS NOT A GOOD HITTER. He should never pinch hit for Matt Joyce, who is, in fact, a good hitter. Conrad put in a wretched at bat, swinging at balls and taking strikes. Ryan Roberts sent a fly ball to right for the next batter that Zobrist advanced to third on, but by that time there were two outs, and Pena was up.
Here’s why I really don’t understand the move. At this point Pena is a worse hitter against lefties than Joyce. If you really feel that your lefty sluggers have no chance against a LOOGY like Blevins, have Joyce bunt the runners over for your lefty masher in Roberts. If Roberts can’t get the job done, YOU STILL HAVE CONRAD READY TO PINCH HIT FOR PENA. Usually I can justify Maddon’s moves, but this time I’m mystified and miffed. Apparently Maddon believes Brooks Conrad to be a significantly better hitter than I/ZIPS do/does. 3:30 rant over.
In the top of the fifteenth, the Rays had another golden opportunity when the Angels sent in Jordan Noberto. Noberto is not a very good pitcher. But Sam Fuld opened the inning up with a bunt popped up back to the bearded pitcher, and although they threatened, the Rays did not score. That set up the bottom of the fifteenth, when Maddon inserted his last bullpen arm, Kyle Farnsworth (Keppinger, the DH, would have needed to pitch after Farnsworth, as the Rays had no bench players at all). Farnsworth allowed a leadoff single to Inge, and Suzuki did the logical thing and bunted him over. Farnsworth intentionally walked Seth Smith, and then made things bad by unintentionally walking Eric Sogard.
There’s a certain level of good strikeout stuff and suspect control where the intentional walk in this situation stops making sense, due to the danger of subsequent walks pushing the lead runner to third. I’m not sure what the break-even point is, but I suspect that both Farnsworth and McGee are on the wrong side of it.
Maddon pulled Zobrist in from right to form a five man midfield, leaving Upton and Fuld normally positioned and no one in right, betting that Weeks couldn’t pull Farnsworth’s fastball. He couldn’t really, but he came close, sending a high fly ball to shortish right center. Upton got most of the way around it, but his throw to the plate lacked mustard, and Inge beat it to the plate by at least a full step for the walk off win.
This was the Rays’ most likely win of the series, but we’ll try again in another night game tomorrow/today. Joy.
- Jeff Keppinger entered this game batting cleanup against a right handed hitter. Good for Kepp, but that’s as good an illustration as you can get on how this season has gone wrong.
- Reddick really looks dangerous nowadays. Maybe I’m just seeing his results plastered across his face, but I could swear he’s changed. Calmer stance, longer hair, icier stair, quicker bat. Also, he sports a pretty intense reverse split, so good job by Price and Howell to shut him down.
- The Rays set a franchise record by striking out 21 Oakland batters.
- The Oakland announcers noticed something interesting about how the Rays were shifting Reddick. Early on in the game, Maddon shifted his infield to the first base side, figuring him to pull the ball. But against McGee, our flame-throwing lefty, Maddon actually shifted his infield the other way, toward third base. As they noted, it ensured that McGee would throw only (or mostly) fastballs, rather than going to his slider. Of course, that was what he was going to do anyway.
- This week's The Week in Worst features a horrendous swing by Johnny Damon, so that's always fun.
- How has Kenny Williams continued to field winning teams with a less than zero farm system? Dave Cameron takes a look.
- What's it like being traded? ESPN the Magazine polled players and even have pretty cool graphs. We know how much people love graphs and charts. Ben Zobrist throws a quote in there.