By Jason Wojciechowski on July 6, 2011 at 7:45 PM
Yesterday I had cusses, but today, yesterday was just another A's loss.
I do want to make one comment before the usual recap starts: A's fans on Twitter, unless I follow a particularly negative bunch, seem to really focus on how bad the A's are when they lose. Is this normal for most teams and their fans? Is it an expectations thing? Is it a Twitter thing? Last night, Oakland scored two runs in a night game started by Felix Hernandez at the O.co Coliseum. This was to be expected. When some random-ass fifth starter pitches for New York at Nu Yankee Stadium and the A's only score three runs? That's the time to get pissy. Felix Hernandez has been shutting teams down, good and bad, for years now. It is what happens. Let's all take a breath.
I got my first look at Dustin Ackley, and he single-handedly beat the A's through the first seven innings, singling, stealing second, moving to third on an error, and scoring on a medium-short fly ball to left in the second, and homering to straight-away center field in the seventh. Those were Seattle's only two runs in regulation.
Kurt Suzuki hit a homer over the left field wall, just out of the reach of Carlos Peguero, in the eighth, cutting the lead to 2-1 and giving the A's a fighting chance going to the ninth, where they'd have the good fortune (relatively) to see Brandon League rather than Felix Hernandez due mostly to the latter's pitch count. (Aside from the fastball that he left up to Suzuki, it did not appear that King Felix was throwing any worse in the eighth than he was in the first. But fourth time through the order, 120 pitches, and all that, so it's hard to criticize Eric Wedge for this.) League promptly gave up a leadoff double to Jemile Weeks, who moved to third on a bunt (more on this later) and scored on a bloop single by Coco Crisp.
Hideki Matsui then walked, which means winning run in scoring position with one out for Conor Jackson, right? Nope: Crisp had got himself caught stealing on the first pitch of the Matsui at-bat. (To practice what I preach, though, it was a perfect throw by Miguel Olivo, a strike right on the bag with plenty of velocity.)
The tenth was a disaster, as I described yesterday, with Ichiro arguably interfering his way into a Cliff Pennington throwaway,1 allowing Franklin Gutierrez, who'd fouled off four straight 0-2 pitches from Andrew Bailey before singling, to score the go-ahead run. Adam Kennedy brought home an insurance run with a double, and that was all she wrote.
Jemile Weeks's ninth-inning double that led to the game-tying run was a slicing liner down the left-field line that bounded into a security guard who made a herculean effort to avoid being hit, but in the end showed the difference between himself and a major-league ballplayer, athleticism-wise. The interference made no difference on the play, most likely, as Carlos Peguero was in position to pick the ball up off the wall and get it in on time to keep Weeks to a double.
As we saw with Coco Crisp earlier in the year, and as we've been concerned about with Weeks, the speedy second-baseman was "caught stealing" on an attempt in the first because he over-slid the bag. His late headfirst slide got him into second in plenty of time, but he carried all the way over the sack and wasn't able to keep his left toe attached. Dustin Ackley kept the tag on and, to my eye, didn't actually engage in much pushing at all, unlike one of the times this happened to Crisp. Weeks did it all on his own.
Apparently he's been told to start his slide earlier to prevent this from happening, but it's a little weird that he played 221 games in the minor leagues with the A's and they never taught him a better slide technique. One worries about taking a player out of his natural rhythms, perhaps, but if the minor leagues are for anything, they're for helping players create new rhythms before they're thrust into a truly competitive environment where the wins actually manage to a team's bottom line.
Weeks did tie the major-league record (presumably) with three assists in the eighth inning, getting three ground balls from Brad Ziegler. Only Brendan Ryan's high chopper short and to Weeks's right was moderately challenging.
Also, when Kurt Suzuki threw the ball into center field on Dustin Ackley's second-inning steal attempt, Weeks was covering. The throw was very high, so Weeks made a leap for it, and the replay showed that the A's new second baseman has serious hops. Do not be surprised if he robs someone of a line drive single that no other second-sacker in the league.
Since I skipped Games 84-86, this was my first experience with Scott Sizemore in the #2 spot, Cliff Pennington having been shifted back to the nine hole, where he likely belongs -- he doesn't hit enough to bat higher and when he does reach base, he can do "second leadoff man" things ahead of the boppers. Uh, the "boppers".
Anyway, Sizemore didn't have much of a day at the plate, and unfortunately for him, I count his sacrifice bunt in the ninth against him even though it was surely called from the dugout. An out is an out, sir.
In fact, the theme of the day offensively was "[A's player] didn't have much of a day at the plate", so I'll just dispense with that from here on out. Assume it.
Coco Crisp compounded the poor offensive showing with a caught stealing in the ninth, as discussed above. Like I said there, it was a perfect throw by Miguel Olivo, but still: Crisp made a key out in a key situation.
Also, the single Crisp reached on was a super bloop, a popup into shallow left that Carlos Peguero made a sliding attempt on. It kicked off the heel of his glove, though, not only giving Crisp first base, but bouncing enough away that he couldn't hop to his feet and make an attempt on Jemile Weeks at the plate. Peguero was playing in because of the runner on third, so in a normal outfield alignment, perhaps he never even has a chance at the ball, but it was a bloopy bloop nonetheless.
Hideki Matsui got a five-pitch walk in the ninth against Brandon League, but two of his other three trips resulted in grounders to Dustin Ackley. It's getting very near time to start calling him Hideki "4-3" Matsui.
Conor Jackson's fifth-inning at-bat illustrated the difficulty of facing Felix Hernandez. Jackson got a 2-0 count on a couple of pitches low and away before taking a strike on the outside corner, swinging at a changeup down, and then grounding a knee-high fastball to Adam Kennedy at third. The 2-0 pitch looks like the key to me -- Hernandez's ability to throw a 2-0 fastball for a strike without it being a fat pitch nearly negates the ahead-in-the-count advantage. The whole point is that the hitter knows a fastball is coming and that the pitcher has to throw a strike with it, and will thus be likely hitting more central parts of the plate. Not Hernandez. It doesn't help that the 2-1 change was, like most Hernandez changes, terrific.
Jackson did scald a liner in the ninth, but it was right at Carlos Peguero in left. If anyone on this team has hit more hard shot line drives right at outfielders, I don't know who it is. It seems like he does it every other game.
David DeJesus only reached base on a hit-by-pitch, a 2-2 fastball that got him on or around his left knee. He managed to steal second on the next at-bat, though, which is always a nice sign.
DeJesus made a hilarious (to him, too -- he was animatedly talking about it in the dugout after the inning) catch at the wall in the seventh on a high fly by Carlos Peguero. The key was the height -- when I say "high", I mean "high". DeJesus looked like an infielder waiting for a popup, except he was standing underneath the scoreboard in right field.
Kurt Suzuki's numbers are dragged down by a rare caught-stealing that I'll talk about in the manager section below. It was a frustrating and silly play, in my opinion, a needless out that Suzuki bears almost no blame for. But you can't take away the homer! (Even though Peguero surely tried, and were he a home-town player more familiar with the outfield and less unsure about how far he was from the wall, he might well have done it.)
Ichiro Suzuki's interference on Cliff Pennington gets all the press around here (and probably in the real papers, too), but Miguel Olivo did a classic "fall across the plate after a swing" move to possibly interfere with Kurt Suzuki's throw on the Dustin Ackley steal attempt in the second that set up the Mariners' first run. Were I in charge of baseball, that play would be interference -- Olivo was not chasing an outside pitch, causing his body to lean out across the plate in his natural swing motion. The replay clearly showed him swing, miss, and then jump across. It's hard to fault the umpire, because it's a play that's never called unless it's egregious and the catcher makes contact with the hitter, but I think we can come up with a wording of the rule that makes it clear to the umpires that batters have to knock this off. If it hurts run-scoring in some tiny degree due to more caught-stealings, I don't care.
Ryan Sweeney struck out three times, which isn't terribly usual, with the worst being in the third inning with Kurt Suzuki running on the pitch. Suzuki was out by ten feet at second base, of course, but it's hard to blame Sweeney for striking out against Felix Hernandez. Even Tony Gwynn would probably have been 0-4 with two whiffs in this game.
I thought Sweeney had Dustin Ackley dead to rights on his throw home in the second inning, because the ball was not hit very deep and Sweeney had time to get under and line up his toss. The throw was up the line toward first, unfortunately, and Suzuki had no chance to dive back for a tag. In my judgment, the same speed throw with more accuracy would have recorded an out, though that doesn't account for the vagaries of collisions, slides around tags, the ball being dropped, and so forth.
Cliff Pennington did nothing on offense, so instead I'll write about his third-inning play on Greg Halman's grounder into the hole. It wasn't actually an exceptional play, but it might be my favorite defensive play in baseball -- a high hopper toward the hole for the shortstop who gets to the spot where the ball will be, shifts his weight onto his back foot as the ball arrives, and rocks forward with a strong throw across, no crow hop, for the out. It's simple but beautiful when you've got a shortstop with a strong arm like Pennington has.2
Of course, Pennington made the game's key error, but I've already talked about this twice, so I see no need to bring it up one more times.
Excellent game for Trevor Cahill, who faced five batters in an inning just once, and did not actually allow a run in that frame: Ichiro hit a one-out single, stole second, held there on a Brendan Ryan grounder back to Cahill, stayed put while Cahill issued a five-pitch walk to Adam Kennedy, and was stranded when Justin Smoak struck out swinging.
A ten percent whiff rate, 60% strike rate, and just one walk are all positive signs for Cahill, as he occasionally loses any idea of where the strike zone is. He did actually get to four different 3-0 counts, but he managed ground-outs on three of those.
Brad Ziegler's awesome three-grounders-to-second inning was mentioned in the Jemile Weeks note above, but it's always fun when a guy does exactly what you're hoping you're paying him to do, so I'm mentioning it again here.
Craig Breslow was pulled after giving up a ground-ball single to Justin Smoak, despite on-deck man Dustin Ackley being a lefty and Breslow having struck out lefty Adam Kennedy to start the frame.
Joey Devine, of course, promptly walked Ackley. He struck out Olivo and Peguero on twelve pitches, though, five of them being of the swinging-strike variety, working out of the jam. I know Olivo and Peguero are pretty whiffin' hitters, but still, five swing-and-misses in seventeen pitches is pretty fun to look at, both on the TV and in the box score.
Andrew Bailey shouldn't have given up the Adam Kennedy insurance-run double, but he did his part to get the A's to the bottom of the tenth unscathed, striking out Greg Halman and getting a double-play ball from Brendan Ryan. It's a "loss" for Bailey, and a completely unjustified one. Fantasy owners, please burn Ichiro in effigy, not Cliff Pennington.
Bob Melvin might have left Trevor Cahill in the game to start the eighth, as the righty had 101 pitches and likely could have gotten through another frame with his pitch-count intact, but, as usual, pitch-counts aren't anything. The seventh saw Cahill leave a fastball up for Dustin Ackley to rip to center, and the changeup that Carlos Peguero hit about six miles in the air could have gotten down a bit more than it did, too. Peguero wasn't far from making it a 3-0 game with the Mariners' second homer of the inning. I'm with the decision to go to Ziegler for the eighth inning.
I am not necessarily with going to Joey Devine to face the lefty Dustin Ackley after Craig Breslow gave up a hit to the switch-hitting Justin Smoak. If I'm Melvin, I see Breslow coming into the game as a three-batter situation, come rain or shine, and he's not coming out until after Ackley unless he gets hurt. It seemed like a reactionary move after a ground-ball single that could just as easily have been a ground-ball out. It's not like Smoak hit the ball 110 mph.
Finally, the Scott Sizemore sacrifice bunt in the ninth. The A's were down one run and had Jemile Weeks at second with nobody out. They played for one run, and one run is exactly what they got, but in that situation, I think I go for the win by letting my hitters swing away. The odds are still pretty solid that someone's going to get a hit, and Weeks would score on almost any single. This all seems particularly true against Brandon League, a heavy ground-ball pitcher (61.5% career) -- moving Weeks to third base might result in a sacrifice fly, but it might just as well result in a grounder by Crisp right to a drawn-in Justin Smoak.
Last word on this bunting issue: immediately after the play, and before the Crisp at-bat, I wrote this in my notes:
you play for one, you get one, yuck
One final complaint about Melvin: with a 3-2 count and nobody out, Ryan Sweeney at the plate and Felix Hernandez on the mound, you can send Kurt Suzuki on the pitch once. You might even send him twice. But if you send him three times, you're just asking for the strike 'me out, throw 'em out double play. Suzuki is gassed by this point, and Hernandez is going to strike you out if you give him enough chances to do so. Miguel Olivo isn't the type to let a catcher get a cheap steal, either. So I strongly disliked that play. The motivation is presumably somewhere along the lines of "you can't score much against Felix, so you have to get things moving where you can." I hope I don't have to tell you how silly I find this. Outs are precious, Brother Melvin, even in a low-run environment like a Trevor Cahill-started game in Oakland. They're precious and you're just throwing them away.
The game's already over, but the A's have the Mariners for one more before heading out to Texas, with Guillermo Moscoso and Jason Vargas taking the hill for each side.
It should be noted, in fairness to the umpires, that Pennington claimed after the game that he had a poor grip on the ball and actually tried to hold up his throw, but the ball came out anyway. It doesn't mean it wasn't interference, but, as with all life, there was no single cause on the play. ↩
Eat it dudes who think stat nerds don't appreciate the beauty of baseball! ↩