By Jason Wojciechowski on May 9, 2012 at 8:20 AM
This game mostly just cruised right along without much action until the bullpens got involved. Jarrod Parker gave up a two-run Kelly Johnson homer (that looked to me like a fly-out to left off the bat) in the third, but other than that, didn't give up much of anything. He wasn't super sharp (see below), but he wasn't getting in and out of jams all day either.
The A's offense, meanwhile, didn't have a single three-up-three-down inning against Ricky Romero, but they also saw their scoring limited to a two-run homer, Josh Reddick's shot into the seats in right-center in the fifth. A second-and-third situation with two outs in the sixth was the next-closest the A's came to scoring off of the Blue Jays' reputed ace.
But then the ninth! Eric Thames hit a triple a pitch after Grant Balfour thought he had a strikeout looking, and Kelly Johnson eventually knocked pinch-runner Rajai Davis (our old friend!) in with a single to right, giving the Blue Jays a 3-2 lead and letting Francisco Cordero, saving games in place of Sergio Santos, on the DL with shoulder inflammation, shut the door. Except the door wouldn't shut. Michael Taylor, who's hit the ball hard the last couple of games, led things off with a double, Jemile Weeks sacrificed him to third, and Cliff Pennington hit a hard grounder through the drawn-in infield to tie the game up again.
Then the real comedy began: Pennington stole second on a pitch that put Josh Reddick in a 3-0 count, so the Blue Jays put him on intentionally. Then Jeff Mathis let a pitch get past him (not sure how -- he just missed it), letting the runners move up to second and third and also taking the count to 3-0. Thus another intentional pass was issued. Then Brandon Inge happened:
Walk-off grandmother! A's win! A's win!
Jemile Weeks, about whom I am going to answer a reader email on this very blog a bit later, had his fifth multi-hit game of the year. Given that the A's have played 30 games (and Weeks has played 27), you can see why he's not hitting .300 so far like he did last season.
Weeks was aggressive early, swinging at the first pitch in each of his two PAs, hitting the ball hard both times, though he only got one hit out of it. He was later gifted a four-pitch walk by Romero, with the first three pitches elevated and not particularly close to the zone, and he smacked a line-drive double to left-center in the sixth on a fastball around his knees.
Overall, it was an encouraging game for Weeks, who we've seen hit far too many high flies this year, and not as many line drives and grounders as you'd like someone with his skill-set to hit. He did still hit everything in the air in this game, though, so maybe we're not quite out of the woods yet.
Cliff Pennington did hit two balls hard in the four trips in which he did not give himself up willingly (he had a sacrifice bunt in the first /chokes to death), though only one went for a hit, as his hard liner in the third inning was tracked down pretty easily by Eric Thames. Ball-in-play location. Sometimes you bite it, sometimes it sends you back to the bench pouting.
Josh Reddick played center field for the first time this year as Yoenis Cespedes hurt his hand taking batting practice and normal backup CF Coco Crisp is already on the DL. Reddick wasn't really tested on defense, though he did have a ball that he briefly lost in the sky and was forced to make an awkward dive against the momentum of his body to catch. He did catch it, though, so all's well that ends well.
I'm intrigued by the idea of Reddick in center because if he can handle it, it's looking more and more like Cespedes can't. It's early yet for the stats, even if you believe in them more than I do, but he just looks terrible going back on the ball. If Reddick can manage that, Cespedes in right would be a very natural fit. (I'm keeping Coco Crisp on the bench here in my perfect world.)
Anyway, a two-walk game for Josh Reddick is always tremendous. The second walk, in the ninth inning, will, I guess, go into the books as intentional, but Reddick earned his 3-0 count all on his own before being given the fourth ball for free. More importantly, his full-count walk on a fastball from Jason Frasor that didn't miss by much was very un-Reddickian in a good way.
Oh, and he homered, like I said above -- it was a 400-footer to right-center, and he now, in the upset of the early season, has the team lead in homers over Jonny Gomes and Yoenis Cespedes.
Jonny Gomes, DHing, got himself three walks (one "intentional" in the same fashion as Josh Reddick's) on a total of thirteen pitches, which seems hard to do. I guess his team-leading .377 TAv scared the Blue Jays' pitchers off from giving him anything to hit. He did, after all, also knock a hard one-hop single through the 5-6 hole in the third on a fastball that caught way too much of the plate from Romero.
Brandon Inge (I do these in batting lineup order. Let's count: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 -- fifth spot in the batting order! Ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah!) really had a weak game until the ninth, knocking two poor grounders, one for a double play, and striking out on one really good changeup and one o.k. one. But then Cordero gave him a terrible off-speed pitch:
(Image from Brooks Baseball.)
Whatever Brandon Inge is, he's still more or less a major-leaguer who can do more or less good things with a pitch at thigh height on the inner half traveling in the mid-80s without enough break to fool a giraffe. With just one out in the inning, Inge only need a sac fly, and he had an easy pitch with which to do that. That he knocked it out of the yard entirely was just gravy.
Delicious delicious gravy.
Seth Smith had a very anonymous day, winding up 1-4 with a line-drive single to center that just dropped in front of a diving Colby Rasmus. It would've been a much more exciting day had Rasmus's dive let the ball skip past him to center, but alas.
Kurt Suzuki got destroyed by a Jose Bautista backswing, catching the bat right on the hand. Baseba'al has not been happy with Suzuki lately, apparently, as his hands and forearms have simply been punished. It was nice to see Bautista expressing some sympathy for the A's backstop. He has a really long backswing -- I wonder if he does this a lot?
Oh yeah, at the plate, Suzuki got a walk and also hit a couple of fly-balls on pitches lower in the zone than you'd maybe like to see fly-balls hit on. He Suzuki'd, in other words.
Daric Barton worked a walk and reached on a fielders choice + error. It was an uneventful day.
Michael Taylor found himself in right field due to Cespedes's injury and looked horrific for his first three trips. Three strikeouts on ten pitches is more impressive than three walks on thirteen, I think, especially since he racked up five whiffs in those nine pitches. He must've been happy as a clam to see Ricky Romero out of the game, and he showed it with his leadoff double in the ninth against Cordero. (He still managed to whiff on Cordero's first pitch, though.)
Jarrod Parker pitched seven innings and cracked 100 pitches for the first time in the big leagues, and he got a quality start out of it, but I think there are negative ways to look at his outing as well:
- Just five ground balls out of 21 balls put in play (counting the homer)
- Five walks
- 54% strike rate
- Just five whiffs on 105 pitches
- Leading to just three strikeouts
I'm not going to call it a bad game in which all Parker did was get lucky, because some of those fly-balls were lazy flies to outfielders and pops to infielders. There were a number of hard-hit balls to defenders, though, including a line-drive that came out of Jemile Weeks's glove (he picked it up and threw Colby Rasmus out at first, luckily -- Rasmus had done that "oh, damn, he caught it" thing hitters do when they hit liners right to infielders) and some balls driven and lined to the outfield.
The Blue Jays can hit -- they're tenth in the league in team TAv -- but I'd still prefer to see a different kind of performance from Parker the next time he goes.
Ryan Cook came very close to giving up a bomb to Jose Bautista, but the Jays' right fielder just missed Cook's fastball and could only lift a very high fly to Seth Smith in left. Cook's pitches looked as nasty as ever, but going 1-0 on each of the three hitters he faced isn't a recipe for success generally.
I don't even know what to think about Grant Balfour's performance. Here's his strike zone plot:
(Image from Brooks Baseball.)
The one marked with a six is the pitch that Balfour thought he had for strike three on Eric Thames. It's not clear to me that that's where pitches normally get called for strikes:
And his next pitch, the one that Thames hit for a triple, that wasn't a good pitch at all. To be fair, Seth Smith probably played a double into a triple by not using the wall well and getting tangled up in things where there's nothing to get tangled up in, but still: the ball was the ball, and Thames ripped it.
Balfour was also gifted an out when Omar Vizquel hilariously bunted a 3-1 pitch in the air to Brandon Inge. The squeeze play was not on, so it was either a called safety squeeze or Vizquel took it on himself to try to bunt for a hit and bring Davis home. Either way, the execution was atrocious. Balfour still gave up the go-ahead run to Kelly Johnson, but that free out helped him keep the damage to just one run, setting up a situation for the A's where they could play for one and where John Farrell had to have his infield in, issue intentional walks, and so forth. A two-or-more-run lead could have changed the entire tenor of the bottom of the ninth purely through strategy (and theoretically through psychology as well, though let's definitely not get into that).
I did not like Cliff Pennington sacrificing in the first inning. That's dead obvious. There's no reason for it. None. Let's just ... let's move on.
The sacrifice in the ninth, when Jemile Weeks bunted Michael Taylor from second to third with nobody out? That one is at least defensible. It's a one-run game, so run-expectancy tables go out the window a little bit. You play to stay alive, and putting a runner on third means he can score on a hit, a sacrifice fly, a wild pitch (and indeed, Taylor very nearly did score on a wild pitch as Cordero's first throw got a ways away from Jeff Mathis, but Taylor didn't read it immediately, so he stayed put), a balk, pretty much anything.
Unfortunately, I can't seem to find a run probability table anywhere (i.e. not "how many runs does a team typically score given this base-out state" but "how often does a team score at least once given this base-out state"). FanGraphs does have the win expectancy decreasing from that bunt, I should note, from 42.5% to just under 40%, so perhaps the bunt overall is not a good play. The idea, presumably, is that you've advanced the clock 1/3 of the way to the end of the game and also lowered the odds of scoring more than one run and thus ending the game right here on the spot rather than going to extras.
So overall, neither bunt was necessarily a good play, though the ninth-inning one, with a hitter like Jemile Weeks at the plate (both his overall hitting profile and his early-season struggles) raises the question for me whether any manager would have done something different. It brings us around, in other words, to the same question I struggled with a lot: if it's the wrong call, but it's a wrong call that everyone would make, is there any point in calling for Bob Melvin's head over it? If we're going to see managers make this play from now until the Mayan apocalypse, then what's the use getting worked up?