By Jason Wojciechowski on April 10, 2011 at 4:50 PM
The A's decided to prove me wrong. "All 2-1 games, huh? We'll do something completely different! How's 1-0 sound?!"
Well, it sounds fine, even if the one run scores on a throwing error by the shortstop, and even if it's all a tad heart-rate-elevating. A 1-0 lead in the ninth is one thing. A 1-0 lead in the ninth with Brian Fuentes throwing the ball god-knows-where is another, especially when that leads to a 3-2 count with a runner on first and two outs, meaning a gapper ties the game. Nothing of that sort came to pass, thankfully.
The offense, despite scoring just one run for the second day in a row, seemed a bit better than Friday night -- they worked some walks and hit some balls hard, but weren't able to string things together. As you'll see below, every hitter but Cliff Pennington (yes, even Kevin Kouzmanoff!) earned his way on base at least once.
A's fans, at least the ones I know on the internet, hate Bob Geren. They think he's a dummy, and given how fans felt about Art Howe and Ken Macha, the fact that they think he's dumb even in comparison to those two says a lot. I tend to see the positive, though -- his batting orders, now that Kevin Kouzmanoff has been demoted, are non-stupid; his bullpen usage is generally fine, if unextraordinary (i.e. he's not taking the radical step of employing Andrew Bailey as a fireman); and with the possible exception of overusing Kurt Suzuki, he mixes his bench players through the lineup. It's that second item that interests me here, though. In a 1-0 game, only your best relievers should pitch, even if you have to go to them in the seventh inning. If you're throwing out your third-best pitcher because he's "the seventh-inning guy", you're doing it wrong. Geren did not do it wrong. Grant Balfour, a guy who some thought might close games in Bailey's absence, and a guy who's clearly either the best or second-best pitcher in the bullpen at the moment, trotted out to start the seventh (and promptly struck out the side in order). When Balfour gave up a single to Joe Mauer in the 8th with one out, Bob Geren didn't mess around with Jerry Blevins or Craig Breslow to play matchups and save Brian Fuentes for a three-out save that might never come -- he went straight to Fuentes and asked him to get the next five outs.
It's not the stuff Earl Weaver is made of or anything like that, but it is notably decent bullpen management in today's environment.
One last non-game note before the box scores: Terry Steinbach stopped by the booth for a half-inning, which was cool. Ray Fosse clearly loves the guy. While they were talking, however, CSN showed a small graphic underneath its corner graphic, which read: "In booth: Rahm Emanuel". One hopes this is the first and last time Terry Steinbach is mistaken for Rahm Emanuel.
To the box and notes.
Mark Ellis smacked a ball to deep left center in the second inning that Denard Span took a Magellian route on and had pop out of his glove. Given the difficulty of the play at the ball (not the difficulty the play should have been had Span broken back on the ball initially as he should have), my experience suggests that such wallops are usually deemed hits, not errors. The scorer in Minnesota, however, decided against me, taking a triple away from Mark Ellis. That's a 1.6-run swing in wRAA for Ellis!
Giving Ellis credit for that triple and noting that it was his ground ball to short on which Alexi Casilla made his fatal throwing error that allowed Kurt Suzuki to score the game's lone run, I award Mark Ellis his second consecutive Offensive Player of the Game award,1 narrowly edging Daric Barton's Bart-tastic day (double the opposite way, walk, walk).
I respectfully request that David DeJesus pick it up. His hit in this game was a poked infield single with Daric Barton on second base, a ball that Alexi Casilla might've had a clean play on had he not been shading toward second before the pitch to keep Barton close.
DeJesus also made a poor defensive play on a bloop off Michael Cuddyer's bat in the fourth, apparently not picking up the ball until it was too late, making a full-on sprint and dive, but missing the catch in the end. This put a runner on third, but Gio Gonzalez worked out of the jam.
Josh Willingham's first-inning single was hit like a fungo for outfielder throwing practice -- a low line drive, sharply hit, right at Delmon Young, who cleanly fielded and threw a one-hop strike to Joe Mauer to get Daric Barton at the plate by about ten feet. I'll never complain about a guy hitting a ball too hard, but Willingham got a little unlucky there.
Kurt Suzuki hit some balls hard, but got no love from the BABIP gods -- notably, he scalded a line drive to center with the bases loaded and two out in the seventh, but the ball required Denard Span to move just a few feet toward right field and a few feet toward the infield to make the catch.
On the other hand, Suzuki also got some unwarranted love from the first-base umpire, who called him safe in the fourth on a play that should've resulted in a GIDP. Perhaps it was makeup for the fact that the ball Suzuki hit to start the near-double-play was sharply stung down the third-base line.
Suzuki also made one of his patented insane glove saves in the eighth with Joe Mauer on second, keeping the Twins catcher there on an awful Brian Fuentes fastball that could've easily gotten to the backstop.
Kevin Kouzmanoff also had an RBI taken away by a nice Twins defensive play. With Mark Ellis on second, Kouzmanoff hit a solid ground ball up the middle, to the left of second base. Alexi Casilla sold out to catch the ball, keeping it from going into center field. There was no play on Kouzmanoff at first, so he got the single, but Ellis was forced to hold at third.
Kouzmanoff didn't make any errors or defensive misplays today, but that might just be because the ball didn't come to him once all day.
Gio Gonzalez threw the ball hard (I think I saw a 96 per the TV gun on one pitch) and worked at a variety of eye levels, usually, as far as I could tell, intentionally. I've said this before: he's never going to be Greg Maddux. The key, then, is not so much being "effectively wild" as it is not throwing the ball right down the middle when he does miss his spots. I only saw Gonzalez throw three or four grooved pitches in this game, one of them resulting in a sharp single and the rest in taken strikes early in the count. I don't recall, nor do my notes reveal, a single hanging pitch. Gonzalez snapped off his breaking ball and kept his change down in the zone.
Grant Balfour threw smoke in the seventh, striking out Danny Valencia, Luke Hughes, and Jim Thome in order. He threw gas down the heart of the plate to Valencia, who just watched it for some reason, blew Hughes away with a fastball down the middle, and then was a little more careful with the guy who could really hurt him in a one-run game, starting Thome off with a slider away, challenging him with a fastball up that Thome fouled back, and then throwing the fastball off the outside edge that the umpire had been calling a strike all day.
Brian Fuentes's six batters faced were more eventful. Delmon Young hit a ball pretty well to right field with Joe Mauer on second in the eighth and Michael Cuddyer got a five-pitch walk to lead off the ninth, but the three outs in the ninth were all pretty weak: a high fly into right, a pop-up by first, and a strikeout to end the game.
Standings: (2) Barton; (2) Crisp; (2) Ellis; (2) Willingham ↩