By Jason Wojciechowski on April 6, 2011 at 10:30 AM
I hate to say I told you so, but here's what I wrote in the Game 10 recap: "Be prepared, then, for a Craig Breslow or Jerry Blevins or Brad Ziegler blow-up to lose the game for the A's tomorrow while Grant Balfour sits around waiting for the save that never comes." I was referring to the fact that Brian Fuentes was likely unavailable after pitching three days in a row, leaving Grant Balfour as the main fireman with Andrew Bailey still out. So what happened in this game? Balfour, despite warming in the top of the ninth, never pitched, and Bobby Cramer, a vastly inferior hurler, gave up the game-winning homer to Alexei Ramirez. There's no real need to rail against this in a Sheehan-y rant -- managing by the save rule rather than to win the game is dumb, and that's what Geren (predictably, since he's a non-special major league manager) did here. It's happened before, and it'll happen again. The only bright side is that, as I said, Geren isn't anything special about his bullpen usage, so the A's will win some games this year when the other team doesn't get their own fireman going with the game tied in the ninth or extras. I'm comforting myself with this notion.
Less comforting were the squandered scoring opportunities by the A's: Mark Ellis on second with nobody out in the second; Ryan Sweeney on second with one out in the fourth; and bases loaded with one out in the sixth were all notable opportunities with fewer than two men out in which the A's were not able to push home any runs. This is nothing new for Oakland, and it will likely be thus 'til the cows come home, but it doesn't make it any less frustrating in a game that eventually goes to extra innings, especially a game where Oakland was getting hits, but just fell one more knock short of likely putting things away.
Box and notes
David DeJesus's day looks even worse than a plain 0-5 because of the first-and-second, no-out double play he hit into in the fifth. Is this season going to be Johnny Damon-in-Oakland redux? Remember that? .256/.324/.363?
Josh Willingham pinch-hit for Coco Crisp in the 10th and struck out. I thought this was a defensible move, offensively, with the lefty Chris Sale in the game (though Crisp's career platoon split is small, and actually slightly in favor of hitting against lefties). Turns out that Crisp was feeling some back soreness, and apparently will not play today. Crisp hasn't hit yet this year any more than DeJesus has, so even to the extent you believe in the hot hand, it's not like the A's are losing a guy who's been scalding the ball. Further, if there's anywhere the A's can patch a starter sitting for a day or two, it's in the outfield. Conor Jackson and Ryan Sweeney aren't any great shakes, but they're probably legitimate major-league outfielders.
Three of Daric Barton's four hits were sharp liners, and one was a grounder that probably would have been a clean single had Alexei Ramirez not been running over to cover second with Coco Crisp faking the steal attempt. (That ball bounced off Ramirez into center for a single anyway.) I loved seeing Barton go the other way with pitches away, particularly on the double off the wall in left. Sure, in Oakland, that's probably a fly out shy of the warning track, but still, it was a solidly hit ball on a pitch, a fastball at the knees from hard-throwing Edwin Jackson, that was hardly a hanger.
For approach and results, then, you can't beat Daric Barton, Offensive Player of the Game for the team-leading third time this year.1
Matsui's first inning double was weird -- he must've got backspin on the ball or something, because it died once it hit the ground. If the ball rolls a little more, Barton scores, but because Alex Rios was able to get over and cut it off, Barton had to stop at third.
If my notes are right, Edwin Jackson threw five straight sliders to Kurt Suzuki in the fifth inning, the last in the middle of the plate resulting in a smash to short that ate Alexei Ramirez up. This was ruled an error, but if this were tennis, we wouldn't call it an unforced error. Jackson was annoyed (apparently at himself, not the manager) when Ozzie Guillen came out to get him, and it's tough to get removed from the game, especially with two outs in the fifth, after a defender screws up, but, like I said, Suzuki's ball was hit very hard -- with any elevation, maybe it's a run-scoring gapper.
Ryan Sweeney really worked for his first walk, fouling off a 1-1 slider away, a changeup on 1-2, a change away on 2-2, and a fastball down on 3-2 (though that pitch was clearly ball four had he taken it) before Jackson lost a slider up and away. The baseball gods shone on Sweeney in reward in his second trip, granting him an easy five-pitch base on balls.
Mark Ellis's single was of the swinging bunt variety, but, while he'll grimace, because that's what he does, he probably won't actually complain.
Kevin Kouzmanoff hit a homer!
Andy LaRoche saw a ton of action on defense and made a couple of plays that made me cringe, including the throwing error that led to Trevor Cahill's removal from the ballgame. He also made a poor throw that might've initiated a double-play in the second -- getting just one out allowed Juan Pierre to score from third for the White Sox fourth run of the inning. Sir Cliff Pennington, struggles with the bat or not, can't return soon enough from his infected sweat gland.2
Since there's no better place to put this: CB Bucknor's strike zone was pretty mediocre. Alex Rios should've been tossed in the 10th inning for arguing his strikeout, but Bucknor gave him a lot of leeway. Rios was seriously up in his grille, too, not just tossing off words as he walked back to the dugout. I don't think I've ever seen such vociferous argument on the strike zone not result in an ejection. Does this mean Bucknor knew his zone was bad? No, of course not, but it's fun to think so.
Trevor Cahill was not impressive. He settled down in the third and fourth innings, but still not to his usual sharpness. Ray Fosse thought he was overthrowing his fastball, and I thought his release point was off (much too late), which may be the same issue. Early on, he was pumping a lot of fastballs into the left-hand batter's box, including two that even Kurt Suzuki couldn't get to for wild pitches.
The fastball wasn't his only problem, though, as his curve was also not sharp, particularly on the hanger on the inner half that Alexei Ramirez hit for a three-run homer in the second.
Cahill's third and fourth innings weren't bad, but even then, the six outs were distributed: two ground, three air, one strike. That's not a typical Cahill distribution, and it's not one that indicates a successful day at the park.
Craig Breslow was not good. Five-pitch leadoff walk to Alexei Ramirez, who's not much of a walker, followed by going from 0-2 to 3-2 on Mark Teahen. That 3-2 count let Ozzie Guillen put Ramirez in motion so that Teahen's ground ball to first base, rather than resulting in a double-play (with Barton's arm, I'm confident that he'd have turned it), allowed only the out at first. Juan Pierre's single up the middle then scored the runner from second. Also, he gave up a hit to Juan Pierre. C'mon.
Brad Ziegler looked good, though, and may have his mojo back. Plus, Bob Geren used him in exactly the right spot in the lineup, against Konerko, Quentin, and Rios, three hard-hitting right-handed batters. Further, Geren was not so enamored of his success that he forgot that Ziegler is a submariner and thus liable to have (and indeed has displayed) significant platoon issues -- even after getting three outs in three batters, Jerry Blevins came on to face A.J. Pierzynski.
Blevins, though he allowed just one batter to reach, did give up a couple of line drives down the line that were caught by Daric Barton and Kevin Kouzmanoff. His box score, then, looks better than I thought his pitch location did.
I don't blame Bobby Cramer. He's not a good enough pitcher for this situation, and that's not his fault. That's biology's fault.