By Jason Wojciechowski on April 21, 2010 at 10:30 PM
I skipped Games 13 and 14 -- not just blogging them, but watching them. (The Lakers got in the way both nights.) That didn't work out so well, though, since the A's lost both of them. I was determined to not let the A's lose tonight, though, so I tuned in on MLB.tv (although I started watching, from the beginning, when the game was in the seventh, so I'm apparently hoping for some kind of retroactive anti-jinx -- but it's Schroedinger's baseball game that I'm dealing with here, so let's just run with it).
Sadly, things did not go well through seven innings, when MLB.tv crapped out on me and told me, even though I'd been watching the game just fine to that point, that the video was not available for playback. My guess is that the game ended and thus the video was put in that mysterious buffer zone where it's not on now and it's not yet been encoded for archived viewing. This shouldn't affect me / Boxee, of course, since I have a Premium subscription (which allows me to use live game DVR in the first place) and Boxee seems to make use of that technology. But I've learned that questioning these kinds of things is futile. MLB.tv will do what it do.
As will umpires, it turned out. The home-plate man in blue had a model ugly strike zone, at least from my perspective on the couch (which I recognize is not a good one, weird left-center angle and all). I'm not saying that he caused Phil Hughes's seven-inning no hitter (so far -- the game will come back at some point, and this entry will then morph into a weird retro-live-blog thing), but the inconsistency surely contributed to the low 2-0 score through seven. Although also contributing: the A's play good defense, the Yankees have good defenders at a number of positions, Phil Hughes is a stud, Ben Sheets settled down after struggling a bit in his first couple of innings, and the A's have one of the least fearsome lineups in the game. Still, from the perspective of sitting at home and watching, nothing is worse than an umpire giving the old mid-'90s Braves treatment (if X was a strike, then X+1-inch-further-outside is also a strike) to outside fastballs, not respecting the inside pitch, not calling anything like a high strike (where "high" means "at the belt"), and completely missing breaking pitches right down the middle (the most egregious of these being a Hughes curve in, I think, the sixth).
Let me try to be positive. Some good things happened. Daric Barton has played sparkling defense at first base. Cliff Pennington made an awesome barehanded play on an awkwardly spinning short chopper. Sheets looked ok and got solid results. Kurt Suzuki threw out Derek Jeter stealing third on a running-on-full-count situation where Sheets got the outside fastball for strike three on Mark Teixeira. Oh, and Ray Fosse was in fine form complaining about the umpire's strike zone, including a sarcastic "strike!" call on a Hughes fastball that sailed about two feet outside.
Ok, the game is back. Top eight, Jerry Blevins, who pitched a very nice seventh, remains on to try to keep this thing close, at least to face Nick Johnson and Teixeira. After last night's much-written-about homer by Alex Rodriguez against Craig Breslow, it'll be interesting to see what he does tonight. Striking Johnson out on three pitches has to help Blevins's argument that he should stay on. Throwing two swinging strikes to start the Teixeira at-bat, and making Teixeira look pretty silly, should help even more. Sadly, getting hurt is the worst argument of all -- out comes Blevins with some kind of injury, maybe his back, from the way he was moving and flexing. Here we go again with the A's -- Mark Ellis was put on the DL today, Travis Buck was a late scratch from this game, and now Blevins has to come out with some kind of problem. "Awesome."
So Tyson Ross gets a chance in a tight game, and he gets a free 0-2 count on Teixeira. Ross made good use of that 0-2 count by whiffing Teixeira on a changeup, it seemed like, getting the Yankee first sacker to swing right through it.
There might be nothing that Ray Fosse hates more than weak, thirty-foot hits. After A-Rod got just that against Ross, Fosse made a snide comment about how Rodriguez had "585 [or however many] homers and there's a hit that goes thirty feet." Cano made up for it with a sharp grounder on a pitch that Ross left up, but it was hit right at Pennington, who was positioned well up the middle with the lefty swinging Cano at the plate, for an easy out.
Fosse gets his revenge on the first pitch in the bottom of the eighth, though, as Eric Chavez rocketed a grounder right back to the box. Hughes got a glove on it, but he couldn't find where it ricocheted, so Chavez was able to scamper to first for the A's first hit of the game. That kind of thing shows why it's so hard for anyone to throw a no-hitter. It takes so much luck.
Joba Chamberlain is up in the bullpen, and I'm excited as hell for the prospect. I'd much rather have the A's facing Joba in this game than Hughes, especially with the way Hughes has been pitching so far. (It doesn't hurt that Hughes is on my Nerd League team, so I'd love to see him escape this game now, followed by the A's winning the game against the bullpen. As long as we're in that position now, that is. I'm not one of those who roots for a guy to have a good game but my team win in the end. I'll trade a bad fantasy day for a good A's day anyday. But as long as we're already in this spot? Where a good fantasy day already exists? Why not keep it a good day and let the A's win the game against someone else?)
Oakland fans are the best. They've just started a "Yankees suck" chant, down 2-0 in the bottom of the eighth, in a game where the Yankee starter has ten strikeouts and two batters have reached base. Well done, ladies and gentlemen, well done.
I got my wish. Here's Joba Chamberlain after Phil Hughes walked Gabe Gross, who had a tremendous at-bat, fouling off numerous strikes as he got Hughes to throw just enough other pitches out of the zone to get himself, as the tying run, on base. Unfortunately, Adam Rosales isn't exactly a thunderstick, and he flied out weakly to right. Jake Fox, pinch-hitting, had a monster cut on 1-0, but missed the Joba fastball, took another monster cut on a 2-1 curve, fouling it back, before knocking Joba's second 2-2 pitch into right, just over the head of Cano, scoring Chavez from second and putting the tying run, in Gabe Gross, on third. Cliff Pennington then bounced to Teixeira at first, ending the threat.
Tyson Ross, somewhat surprisingly, stayed on to pitch the ninth. Adam Rosales made an awesome play on a ground-ball by Jorge Posada deep in the hole -- he dove, rolled over, and made a throw from his ass, but he couldn't get the ball out of his glove quickly and cleanly enough, so he wasn't able to get even the towing-a-trailer Posada at first.
After Curtis Granderson's groundout, we got a shot of Jake Fox sitting on the bench. In catcher's shin guards. That's just weird. He's out of the game, as Rajai Davis pinch-ran for him after his hit. Why is he wearing shin guards?
Anyway, all that hard work in the bottom of the eighth goes for naught, as the A's are back down two after Brett Gardner's very nice full-count single to left, scoring Curtis Granderson with two outs. A one-run lead to overcome against Mariano Rivera is bad enough. A two-run lead is well-nigh impossible. (And that's if this game stays at two. That's no sure thing after Ross threw an ugly wild pitch that allowed Gardner to get to second.)
Ray Fosse then got hot on an insane check-swing call on Derek Jeter. Jeter's body basically did a 180, with the bat a little further than that, but the first base umpire somehow decided that it was not strike three. I was a little concerned for a second that Fosse was about to go charging out of the booth to get himself a piece of that umpire. Best part: "He's behind the plate tomorrow!", said with all the outrage and disbelief that ol' Ray could muster. He's a gem, guys. If you're listening to someone else call the games when the A's are on, you are missing out, I tell you what.
I then pulled a Fosse on the home-plate umpire's call on Mariano Rivera's 0-1 pitch to Daric Barton. It looked like the same inside pitch that he'd called a ball all night, but it was suddenly a strike this time. I don't know whether it was objectively a strike or not. In fact, I rather suspect it was. What I do know is that the common-law strike zone for this particular night did not include that area of the plate. As various baseball tweeters like to say: #humanelement.
Small sample alert! Ryan Sweeney owns Mariano Rivera. He's now 4-6 in his career against him after a soft line-drive single into left-center. Kurt Suzuki then worked a hit-by-pitch, putting the tying run on base for Eric Chavez. (GIDP alert!) By "worked", I mean that he fouled off about a thousand pitches until Rivera finally tried to go inside but missed, hitting him squarely in the thigh, I think. As Fosse said, Suzuki took that one like a man, just turning right into it to get himself on base.
Hilariously, the tables have turned on the umpire's strike zone here. After that inside strike to Barton, Mariano has thrown two pitches outside to lefties, both of which I'm fairly certain were called for strikes earlier in the game for Phil Hughes and Ben Sheets, but the umpire just spit on them. #humanelement
Well, Chavez did his damndest to hit the GIDP I called for, hitting a weak chopper, but it was so weak that it only got to the pitcher, and Mariano was only able to get the out at second. This leaves the game in Kevin Kouzmanoff's hands, who's a strikeout waiting to happen here. Hughes got him three times, and Mariano ... well, he's pretty good at getting strikeouts. The killer strike was on 0-1, when Mariano threw a cutter that didn't really cut very much right down the middle of the plate, and Kouzmanoff just sliced right through it. Not even close. He looks terrible right now. (He flied out weakly to center to end the game.)
I think it's a fair thing to say that the A's offense is back where we all thought it would be after the early tear they went on, getting guys on base, getting key hits, and so on. Kouzmanoff looks like Holliday redux, with his power just disappearing (although without the excuse of park factors -- he came from Petco!), Daric Barton is all-eye, no thunder, Rajai Davis has regressed to Rajai Davis-level production, and so forth. This isn't a winning team, much as the early domination of Seattle might have fooled us. Oh well. See you in July, Michael Taylor.