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.
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
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.
As it turns out, two singles in four trips with a caught stealing grades
out to exactly average with the weights I'm using. Good to know! ↩