By Jason Wojciechowski on April 12, 2010 at 11:30 PM
I watched this one late (a weird 3:40 start time contributed to that, as did my making a quiche, eating it, and watching an episode of Castle), but in the end: another day, another A's win.
Cliff Pennington, I tweeted, is basically Miguel Tejada now, right? Good, strong arm, occasionally erratic (as he almost threw the ball away in the 6th inning when Adam Rosales made a diving stop up the middle to get the fielder's choice), and leading the team in homers. The comparison totally works, right? You can't tell me otherwise.
In more seriousness, it's nice to see him off to a hot start after almost losing his job to Adam Rosales this spring. It's twenty-six at-bats, but it's also a .577 slugging percentage and five walks, second on the team to (who else?) Daric Barton, who's started the year with an absurd .529 on-base percentage. No, Barton still isn't hitting for power, but if he keeps his average high enough to manage a .420 OBP, it's not really going to matter. That's a valuable hitter. Pennington's power, too, will not remain this ridiculous, but it's the OBP you care about: .387 would exceed expectations (if you like PECOTA, his 90th percentile PECOTA OBP is .360, so .387 obviously far outstrips that) and provide a real boost to the offense.
The "it's a game of inches" thing was really in effect tonight. Oakland's first run (their only run in an inning when they loaded the bases with no one out) came after Daric Barton was basically picked off of first base by the catcher on Rajai Davis's steal attempt (successful, his fifth of the year, and he hasn't been caught yet). I watched the Mariners' feed tonight (MLB.tv crapped out on me on the A's feed), and they were incredulous that Barton was called safe, but they didn't reall have a good camera angle to back up their argument. Either way, though, whether he was safe or whether he was actually out, but close enough to let the umpire make the mistake, it was really close.
Another key just enough moment came a few pitches before Gabe Gross's two-run single. With two strikes on him, he basically swung through a Rowland-Smith fastball, but caught the tiniest piece of the ball to stay alive. Of course, that level of foul tip is often caught by the catcher, too, and the fact that it just slipped out of Rob Johnson's glove also contributed.
The third (actually second) big moment was on Kevin Kouzmanoff's sacrifice fly following the Barton play described above. The ball was struck to medium left field, and high, allowing Milton Bradley to get situated under it and gather for a strong throw to the plate. He made that strong throw and any runner on the A's but Rajai Davis would surely have been out by five feet. Davis, though, slid just ahead of the tag, to the outside of the plate, hooking his foot to catch a piece of the dish.
Even Cliff Pennington's homer wasn't exactly a 430-foot blast. And, while it likely would not have changed the overall outcome, Ichiro just missed a homer in the eighth against Jerry Blevins, hooking it just to the right of the pole in right field before eventually flying out to center.
You don't want to overemphasize luck in any one given game, though. It was really just more visible in this contest. Every game features balls that, had the bat been a millimeter higher or lower, a fraction of a second quicker or slower, would have left the park or fallen for hits instead of settling into a fielder's glove or being missed entirely. Every sport is a game of inches, but the unique physics of baseball's basic interaction of high-velocity bat and high-velocity ball makes it all the more so. Thus far this year, those physics have given the A's a bunch of tallies in the win column. I'm enjoying it while it lasts.