By Jason Wojciechowski on May 15, 2011 at 11:55 PM
Leading 6-0 after three innings is a pretty good way to win, even if the other team chips away with runs in the sixth and seventh innings. At the end of the third inning, the A's Win Expectancy stood at 96.2%, and even though the Rangers cut the lead to four by the seventh inning stretch, the passage of time pushed the A's odds up to 97.6%. Even down "just" four runs, in other words, having six outs to work with is a tough thing to overcome.
The six runs the A's scored in the first three innings weren't on balls blasted all over the yard, though they didn't come on a series of binks and blaps either. The first two A's runs came home via two solid doubles sandwiched around a walk earned by Daric Barton despite being down 0-2. After that, though, Josh Willingham was lucky not to strike out looking before hitting a fly that moved Conor Jackson to third, drawing the infield in, which allowed Kurt Suzuki's grounder to reach the outfield in left, plating the third Oakland run.
The fourth run was of no note, but the fifth was precipitated by an Elvis Andrus throwing error and a poke line drive on a very late swing by Hideki Matsui.
Box & Notes
Andy LaRoche and Conor Jackson tie for the wRAA lead, with a single, double, and walk/HBP apiece. I give Conor Jackson the Offensive Player of the Game on the following basis: Jackson's double was a line drive, while LaRoche's was a grounder down the line; as I recall, Jackson's single was hit a little harder than LaRoche's as well; LaRoche struck out for his out, while Jackson hit a sharp ground ball to third; and Jackson earned a seven-pitch walk while LaRoche was hit by an 0-1 fastball. LaRoche had a nice game, but Jackson looked locked in at the plate.2
Coco Crisp was at the plate during a weird moment in the third. Dave Bush was on the mound and threw a first-pitch fastball for strike one. Ball one was then awarded to Crisp without a pitch being thrown as some umpire held that Bush "went to his mouth" (as they say -- which means he licked his hand, which doesn't sound nearly so distinguished as "went to his hand", although it does sound far less masturbatory) without then wiping his hand on his uniform afterward. Replay, unfortunately for the umpire, clearly showed that Bush did wipe his hand off after licking it. Ron Washington came out for an argument, but ran managers' all-time record to 0-157,256,714 in disputes with the umpires.
None of this ended up mattering, though, as Crisp grounded into a 4-6-3 double play two pitches later.
Daric Barton reached on an error on one of those balls where the player probably feels like he earned it, riping a ball to right-center in the seventh only to see Mitch Moreland drop it on the warning track. Barton got all the way to third on the play.
Barton was also the victim of a weird play in the seventh. He was on third base with Josh Willingham at the plate. CompliantPork popped the first pitch into foul territory over by the first-base dugout, not terribly high. Mike Napoli, who looks like he's really lost some weight this year, perhaps in an effort to make himself more mobile at first base, sprinted over and appeared to catch the ball before skidding into the dugout. The umpires ruled that Napoli had not caught the ball and then disappeared off the field of play (which would have granted base-runners an extra base because of the ball leaving the field), but that Napoli had instead not made the catch at all.
Replay showed that Napoli likely had made the catch in the field before sliding into the dugout and losing the ball there. Discussion on the broadcast centered around the fact that baseball's catch-in-play rule is not the same as football's -- just because Napoli didn't maintain possession all the way to the ground doesn't mean it wasn't a catch.
Too bad for Barton, then, since he was out at the plate three pitches later, going on a contact play when Willingham hit a hard grounder to second base.
Gio Gonzalez had a nice game right up until he hit Mitch Moreland in the shoulder in the seventh inning, prompting Bob Geren to call on Brad Ziegler. Of his seven strikeouts, I see four on curves and three on fastballs, a nice split that shows that Gonzalez can get whiffs on more than just his "out pitch" -- having batters unsure whether Gonzalez will come with a high fastball or a low curve surely does wonders for his effectiveness.
The Grant Balfour v. Nelson Cruz battle was a classic power-power matchup, at least on the 1-2 pitch, as Balfour threw a fastball just above the belt that Cruz whiffed on. On the previous two pitches, Balfour had thrown low sliders, one of which was called (likely wrongly) a strike.
Craig Breslow's day looks worse than it was, as you can tell from the fact that he got two ground balls from the batters he faced -- the first resulted in an error by Cliff Pennington (actually, the official scorer ruled it a single, but my notes say that I thought it was an error), and the second was a medium-strength ball that just found its way past Breslow and got into center for a single.
Brian Fuentes did not get a save, as I learned that the rule for saves is different for mid-inning replacements than when you start an inning fresh. In the latter case, as we all know, the lead must be three or less. In the former, however, the potential tying run must be, at furthest, on deck. In this case, with two men on base, the on-deck man (Ian Kinsler, for what it's worth) would have been only the Rangers' sixth run.
In terms of win expectancy, the Rangers were about 2.6% to win, which is not really distinguishable from a three-run lead starting the ninth, so if you're ok with using the closer up 5-2, then you should be ok using him in this case, especially against a division rival.
Neither of the fly balls hit by the Rangers against Fuentes, by the way, was hit hard, which is good, because a flock of seagulls had settled onto and just above the field by this point. A number of them were just sort of chillin' in the short outfield. A line drive might've resulted in gull tragedy, so Fuentes showed real love of his fellow creature by inducing a shallow pop to left and a high fly to center before striking out Elvis Andrus to end the contest.