By Jason Wojciechowski on August 20, 2010 at 10:45 PM
The second batter of the game, Ben Zobrist, hit a medium-hard ground ball toward second base, on the right side of the bag. It wasn't going to be an easy play, requiring a backhand and a solid throw, but it's one we've seen Mark Ellis make hundreds of times in his years in green and gold. Unfortunately, Mark Ellis got the night off, and Steve Tolleson booted the ball. I firmly believe that Ellis is one of the more underrated players in the game -- he's no All-Star, but he's a very useful player. The problem is that his value comes almost entirely from his glove and that's not a skill that people find it easy to appreciate without watching. With the A's on national TV at most twice a year, fans don't get a lot of chances to turn him into a national glovely folk hero the way A's supporters have.
Cliff Pennington is turning into an artist with bat, ball, and right-field line. His third inning double might have actually hit the line itself, after last night's big two-run double hit the base of the wall some tiny distance inside the line. If he can keep popping occasional doubles, and if his defense is actually as good as my perception says it is (not Gold Glove caliber, but above average, in the +5 range), he can be a valuable player. His offensive skill is such that he's unlikely to be getting big paydays in arbitration a few years hence. If all goes well, though, he'll be nontendered or traded when he hits arbitration as the team welcomes Grant Green to the roster.
Speed, baserunning ability, and contact skills got the A's their first and second runs in the bottom of the third. Following Pennington's double, Coco Crisp hit an infield single on a cue shot toward shortstop. Jason Bartlett just had to eat the ball, unable to even make a throw. (Speed.) With a 1-1 count, Crisp and Pennington got enormous jumps and pulled off a double-steal. John Jaso didn't even get a throw off, in part because it looked like he wanted to throw to second, but no Ray covered the bag. (Speed, baserunning. Also luck.) The pitch was a strike to Barton, and a decent pitch to hit, but the recognized that the runners were going to move up and trusted his ability to hit with two strikes, so he took. (Contact.) He then did, in fact, do a nice job making contact with two strikes (contact), knocking a single up the middle that scored Pennington from third and Crisp, running hard and getting a good jump, came home ahead of BJ Upton's throw (speed, baserunning).
I've joked about it on Twitter before, but if you went back 10 years and told an A's fan that this was how the offense would be built in 2010, they'd laugh in your face. "Beane likes Matt Stairs," they'd say.
Following up on Game 120's Kevin-the-ballkid story, it turns out that while the TV cameras only caught him giving two balls to the cute redhead, he actually gave four. And the bullpen guys sent over a fifth ball with a message asking for her number. After that display of affection, how could she say no? Story here.
I love Travis Buck, and I recognize that Joaquin Benoit is a really good pitcher, but their battle in the bottom of the eighth shows why Buck is probably going to spend next year in AAA or be traded for a bucket of crushed walnuts. You can't chase that many pitches out of the zone while hitting for as little contact and power as Buck does and be a viable major league corner outfielder. He doesn't really bring much on defense or the bases, either, so if he's not hitting, what's he for?
If this A's team were going anywhere, Cliff Pennington would be a national treasure. He's short, he doesn't have any power, and he throws every single ball from shortstop with every ounce of velocity he can muster. But in the last couple of games, with his timely right-field doubles, spinning-and-throwing defensive plays, and hustle down the line to take advantage of Ben Zobrist's errors (ok, that only happened once), he's been a huge part of the A's victories. Here's last night's win probability roundup. Here's the night before's (see the sixth inning double?). And here's the walkoff hit against Toronto (and note also the Yunel Escobar double play).