You knew how this was going to end as soon Grant Balfour walked onto the field in the bottom of the tenth inning, greeted by cheering Oaklanders brandishing "Balfour Rage" signs. They remembered the good times. These are not the good times. In a half-inning that seemingly took forever, Sam Fuld singled up the middle and then stole second base (his second steal of the night). John Jaso walked. Josh Donaldson walked. And while Balfour managed to strike out Brandon Moss in front of a five-man infield, allowing Rays fans who still cared to exhale, the next batter, his old catcher Derek Norris poked a breaking ball up the middle to end the game.
There was nothing wrong with Balfour's last pitch, and he was a bit unlucky at the placement of Norris's weak grounder, but that's what happens when you walk back-to-back batters to load the bases.
This game was always going to favor Oakland if it turned into a battle of bullpen depth, but the Rays did have a chance to win it with Jake McGee warming up. In the Rays half of the ninth inning, they threatened Oakland's closer Sean Doolittle with some small-ball, but could not score. James Loney led off the inning with a line drive the other way, and was immediately pinch-run for by Sean Rodriguez. Logan Forsythe sacrificed him into scoring position at second, and then the Rays caught a lucky break. A seemingly routine ground ball off the bat of Yunel Escobar ate up Jed Lowrie for an E6, putting runners at the corners with one out. Maddon sent in Brandon Guyer for Molina, and asked him to lay down a squeeze bunt. His bunt was not good enough -- straight back to the charging Doolittle -- and Rodriguez was out at the plate. Doolittle's big fastball dispatched Kiermaier handily to end the inning.
How did the game become a battle of bullpen depth, you ask? Wasn't Alex Cobb pitching, you ask? Yes, he was. He had a horrible day, which for him means 5.2 innings of two-run baseball. Over that span he worked into and out of trouble, loading the bases twice but escaping the jam both times. His usual impeccable command was noticeably off, as Cobb walked four batters (while only striking out four).
The Rays had jumped on Jeff Samardzija first, in the second inning, when Longoria grabbed hold of a fastball over the plate, and with an easy, fluid swing pulled it on a line over the left-center wall. The ball left the park about as quickly as possible, but the next inning, Oakland tied the game back up. Josh Reddick singled with two outs, and then Jed Lowrie doubled down the right-field line. Kevin Kiermaier fielded quickly, as he always does, and hit the cutoff man, but the relay to the plate was ten feet offline and there was no play.
One inning later, Kiermaier once again flashed his arm throwing to third after a fly ball to deep right field, but the runner, Eric Sogard, was [barely] safe, and apparently they don't make replay videos of "almost highlights," so no, you don't get to see it.
The Kevin Kiermaier show continued in the fifth, when he dropped a liner into the gap that got underneath Brandon Moss's glove, but didn't have the velocity to make it the the wall. Undeterred, Kiermaier turned on the jets and made it to third handily. He came home on a Desmond Jennings single to retake the lead.
By the sixth inning, though, Alex Cobb had run a significant pitch count. He made it to two outs, but a single by Josh Donaldson tied the game and ended Cobb's night, setting the gears in motion that would result in Grant Balfour pitching with the game on the line.
Some other notes:
- A couple series ago, when the Rays were dominated by the Brewers, Yovani Gallardo, I noted that Gallardo's sinker isn't an elite pitch on paper but that it plays up because of his release point. Jeff Samardzija is the counterexample. He has a mid-90s sinker with extreme movement down and away from a lefty. It's a serious groundball pitch, and when properly placed, it's a strikeout weapon too. It's fun to watch.
- I don't know who they are, but I kind of like the Athletics broadcast team. Decently smart, positive attitude, sounds like they get along. They also have someone in their production department who makes good graphs based off PITCHf/x data, so well done, nerd, whoever you are.
- Brandon Moss swings hard, and it's the kind of hard that comes from a violent twist of the entire body. I understand his gaudy home run totals of the past few years.
- I'll just say it so that no one else has to. Maybe Cobb was missing David Price's leadership. Or maybe he was too amped up trying to be a leader. Okay. Done.
- Why did we get rid of John Jaso again?
- With two outs in the bottom of the fifth, there was what I assume was a streaker on the field. Of course they didn't show him on TV, but the crowd and the players, especially David DeJesus, appeared to be amused.
- In the tenth inning, there was a possum on the field. The cameras did show the possum, and the security guards did not tackle it.