By Jason Wojciechowski on April 19, 2009 at 8:29 PM
Today we've got the rubber match of the Toronto-Oakland series, the only time the A's will travel to Canada this season. It's a getaway day for Oakland as they head to New York for tomorrow night's game. Dallas Braden is on the mound for the A's, with a 1-1 record and a 3+ ERA. Ricky Romero, the rookie from Fullerton and Kurt Suzuki's former batterymate, pitches for Toronto with a sub-three ERA and a 1-0 record. He outdueled Rick Porcello in his major-league debut.
Oakland's top-five in their lineup remains the same, but there's some intrigue at the six and nine spots: Sweeney moves back to center and hits leadoff; Cabrera's in his usual spot; Giambi is DHing today; Matt Holliday's doing what he does; Jack Cust, with Giambi DHing, is in right; Eric Chavez is back for the A's, playing third, which is exciting news; Kurt Suzuki is behind the plate against his old teammate; Mark Ellis is at second; and Landon Powell gets his second game at first base for the A's. I like that Bob Geren is not afraid to use both of his catchers in the lineup, although I do have to ask whether Travis Buck did something to offend the manager. We've seen neither hide nor hair of him this series, not on getaway day, and not on the day-following-night game yesterday.
Toronto has the Scutaro-Hill combination in the 1-2 slots; Rios and Wells at three and four, both in the outfield today; Millar batting fifth and DHing; Rolen back at third after the day off yesterday; Lyle Overbay playing first, even against the lefty Braden; Raul Chavez catching and hitting eighth, and he's the third catcher the Blue Jays have put out there in this series, with Barrett getting hurt in game one and Barajas catching game two; and Travis Snider finishes off the order, playing left field.
It's apparently Lyle Overbay Bobblehead Day in Toronto, which means that yesterday's homer was a day early, and it also means that there was no way in hell Cito could sit Overbay. Also, I now realize that Romero's a lefty, which might explain why Geren prefers Powell, a switch-hitter, to Buck, a lefty, in today's lineup, especially when you consider Toronto's plethora of bullpen lefties.
Romero's only walked two guys in fourteen innings this year, so the A's will probably have to swing the bats today. He's only got seven strikeouts. That's not a terrible number, but it means guys are generally putting the bat on the ball.
True to form, an 0-2 count to start on Sweeney with a couple of fastballs away. Romero's throwing pretty hard for a lefty, hitting 94 on that last fastball away, although he apparently works more typically in the 88-92 range. Romero's 2-2 fastball is up and in at 92 mph to Sweeney, who pops it up to Scutaro.
Romero does work quickly, getting right back on the rubber after he gets the ball back from the catcher. Orlando Cabrera rolls a weak grounder to Scutaro at short on a 1-2 pitch low but over the plate. Two outs easily.
Romero's second pitch to Giambi comes up and might have hit him had he turned into it, but he started to swing, resulting in the ball nicking off his bat for an 0-2 count. The next pitch is a nice line drive to right, but right at Rios ... who drops it! I don't know what happened there with Rios. It hit his glove and fell straight to the ground, so Giambi's at first base for Matt Holliday.
Holliday takes a first-pitch ball, the first time Romero's done that. Holliday's OBP is still under .300 for the year. The 1-1 pitch is a fastball in that ties Holliday up, but he holds up his swing. The crowd thought he swung. I disagree, but I thought the ball should've been called a strike. The next pitch is a slider that dives well down out of the zone, but Holliday chases. The difference between 2-2 and 3-1 is huge, so it's too bad that Holliday didn't recognize that pitch as it came in. The 3-2 pitch, after a slider bounces in the dirt, is perhaps a changeup that Holliday is way out in front of for a swinging strikeout. Romero really saved that pitch for a good time, with Holliday definitely able to hit the gaps and Giambi running with the pitch.
Marco Scutaro is bit of a rain delay at the plate, isn't he? He spends a lot of time fiddling with his glove and his helmet between each pitch. It doesn't help him, though, as Braden gets a couple of called strikes low and away before getting Scutaro swinging with a very nice changeup down.
Braden's getting ahead well with his fastball, as he's 0-2 on Hill. The changeup to Hill isn't quite as successful, though, as it doesn't dive quite as much, allowing Hill to get a bat on it for a line drive into left. Fortunately, it's right at Holliday, who has some trouble with it, but manages to hold on. It looks like the same thing happened to him as happened to Rios in the top half, as the ball was hit at probably about the same trajectory as Giambi's.
Alex Rios smacks one toward the 56 hole that the camera doesn't really pick up quickly enough for me to see. The replay shows that Cabrera dived and got a glove on it, but only succeeded in slowing it down, not stopping it so he could make a play. So each team gets their three-hole man on first with two out.
Wells hits a 2-0 fastball for a chopper back to Braden, to the left of the mound. Braden calmly gets on it and throws to first to end the inning. A very solid first for Braden, as Rios hit the ball hard for a hit, but Hill's out, even though it was a live-drive, came on a defensive swing, reaching out for the changeup that had him mostly fooled.
Romero's 0-2 slider gets away from him, and Jack Cust nearly takes one in the ear, but ducks away. The next pitch is a fastball low and away that's nearly a perfect pitch, but Cust lays off and the umpire just gives it a look. Cust lines a shot up the middle, but Scutaro, playing on the right side of the bag in the shift, makes a great diving catch to take a hit away. The ball was hit hard enough that someone in a normal second-base spot likely would not have gotten to it. Oh well. That's the shift for you.
Now Eric Chavez, making his first appearance in a while, gets the count full before Romero throws a fastball on the inside corner right past Chavez's swing. At least he saw some pitches. Gotta find the silver lining.
Suzuki is down 0-2 before fouling back a high fastball that would've been ball one. The next 0-2 pitch is a breaker of some kind that Suzuki dribbles foul on the first-base side. The final 0-2 pitch is a changeup that dives low and away as Suzuki waves at it for Romero's third strikeout of the game. What'd I say about him not missing bats?
Braden frustratingly walks Millar on four pitches to start the second. The third pitch was close, but the other three weren't. He does get a first-pitch strike on the inner half to Rolen, though. After a fouled changeup gets the count to 1-2, another changeup results in a soft popup to Mark Ellis.
Up comes Bobbleboy, though, who won the game for Toronto last night. They just gave us a shot of what the 'head looks like, and it's wearing the baby blue unis. Braden's 1-1 pitch bounces in the dirt and dribbles away toward the third-base side in foul territory, allowing Millar to move up. Overbay then lines the next pitch up the middle for a single and a 1-0 Toronto lead. It wasn't a terrible pitch, reasonably low and sort of away, but it did miss the target that Suzuki had set up inside.
Raul Chavez pops up an 0-1 change and Braden calls off Giambi to make the play in front of the mound. It was another soft pop, not hit high at all.
Braden gets to 2-2 on Snider before freezing him with some soft stuff right down the middle. It's Braden's second strikeout of the game, but Bobbleboy got to him first.
Mark Ellis leads off the third for Toronto by taking a ball low. He fakes the bunt on the second pitch. I don't think I've ever seen Ellis try to bunt for a hit. He's a little guy, but he's not particularly fast, and it's of course a lot harder for a righty than a lefty to get a hit on a bunt. Ellis shows why he doesn't bother bunting on 2-2 as he hits a high liner right up the middle for a single.
Landon Powell will try to do some damage, then. The announcers claim he weighs 260 pounds, but I'm looking at him, and I don't really buy it. He's big, certainly, but I wouldn't put him at anything over 240. Maybe he's got really dense bones. Anyway, Romero's ahead of him 1-2 before Powell hits a very high fly ball into the 78 gap that Wells gets under for an easy out.
Dammit. There goes a wasted baserunner. Ryan Sweeney hits a 1-0 fastball a long way, bouncing it off the wall in right for a double, but Mark Ellis paused at second to be sure the ball wouldn't be caught. The third-base coach inexplicably sent him home anyway, where he was gunned out by about 10 feet even though the throw was up the third base line a bit. It was a poor read by Ellis on Sweeney's hit because of how far the ball ended up flying, and it was a really poor decision by Mike Gallego to send him home even after he'd stopped at second to be sure. Silver lining? Ryan Sweeney is really putting a good bat on the ball lately.
So instead of second and third with one out for Orlando Cabrera, there's a runner on second with one out, and Cabrera flies out to left to end the threat.
The frustration continues starting off the inning as Orlando Cabrera throws Marco Scutaro's ground ball into the dirt at first. Powell, not a first baseman by trade, can't gather it in for the out and Scutaro reaches on Cabrera's error. Aaron Hill then hits a ball weakly to right-center that just falls into the Bermuda Triangle between Ellis, Sweeney, and Cust. So first and second with no outs, and Braden has to feel annoyed about this, as he's done nothing wrong in the inning.
Toronto's crowd boos too much. They just booed Braden for stepping off toward Scutaro at second. They don't realize that Scutaro stole third yesterday? Stop booing pickoff moves. You're idiots.
Anyway, Braden gets to 2-2 on Rios before he pops one into short right. Cust comes charging in, and he's got the best angle on it, but Sweeney calls him off and takes the catch on the run for the first out. I guess Sweeney doesn't trust Cust with the glove any more than I do.
Wells skies a ball toward left that sounds dangerous and excites the Toronto crowd. Holliday takes a few steps back, but then comes back about to his normal position and makes the easy play. Wells slams his bat in frustration, as he knows he just missed a hittable pitch, getting it off the end of the bat.
Millar then hits a ball well to center, but not that well, and Sweeney runs about 15 feet back to camp out for the catch. Thus the inning ends and neither Cabrera's error nor Hill's lucky bloop hurt Braden. Her certainly does give up a lot of fly balls, though, doesn't he?
Giambi leads things off for Oakland and takes two pitches for balls, neither of which is close. Giambi, despite the favorable count, chases a Romero pitch low and away and grounds toward the shortstop hole, where Rolen is playing because of the shift. Giambi's thrown out easily.
Matt Holliday certainly does swing hard. Maybe not as hard as Jack Cust, but he doesn't get cheated. He strikes out for the second time, this time looking at a fastball on the inside corner. He's not happy with the call, but it looked consistent with this umpire's strike zone to me. Romero then throws another beautiful two-strike pitch, this one a curve to Cust that catches the outside corner for another called third strike. Five whiffs for Romero, and it's really just to spite me for talking about how he's not much of a strikeout pitcher.
Scott Rolen rips a line drive to the opposite field, and Jack Cust shows that he understands his limitations, letting it drop in front of him rather than charging to try to make an impossible play. If that's Travis Buck, he probably dives and it's an inside the park homer for Rolen.
Captain Bobble comes back to the plate for Toronto. Braden whiffs him on four pitches, though, finishing with a breaking pitch on the outside half that Overbay is out in front of.
Braden then induces a soft tapper right at Mark Ellis. Chavez is a catcher and he runs like one, so it's an easy 4-6-3 double play, especially for a keystone combination as good at this baseball thing as Ellis and Cabrera are.
Eric Chavez starts things off for the A's with a sharp ground ball. He went the right way with the ball, a fastball on the outer half, but it goes right at Marco Scutaro, so it's an easy out at first.
Suzuki follows by also hitting a sharp ground the opposite way, but this one's not right at a fielder. Hill dives for it, but it eludes his glove and bounces off his body into right field for a hit. Hill looks like he misjudged it and over-dived or the ball changed directions, because it looks like his glove was extended out farther than the ball was.
The count goes to 3-1 on Ellis, who gets a fastball up that's hittable, and he hits it, but it's a lazy fly ball to Rios in right for the second out of the inning.
Landon Powell ought to count himself fortunate, as the count runs to 3-2 on a fastball low and away that wasn't really that low or that much away. I guess the umpire thought it missed the plate, but that was a borderline call. Romero winds up throwing ball four right through Chavez's wickets. Suzuki can't get past second on the pitch, though.
Ryan Sweeney, who's been absolutely stroking the ball in this series, comes up with two runners on and a chance to tie the game. Sweeney takes the 1-0 fastball that looked to me to miss the plate by six inches outside for a strike. Sweeney didn't much like the call. The 1-1 pitch is another three inches further away, again called for a strike. Good lord. Sweeney held up on the breaking pitch, though, keeping himself alive in the at-bat. Romero then tries to hit the spot he got the first two strikes on, but gets the ball elevated too much for ball three. The runners will run on the pitch. Sweeney gets a pitch up, again something hittable, but it's a high fly ball just right of center for the third out to Wells. Shame.
Travis Snider gets just under one a little bit, hitting it high into the right-center gap. The camera followed Jack Cust hauling ass, so I thought the ball was over his head, but it turned out that Sweeney was coming over to make the catch, so Cust had a longer run to get behind to back him up on the play. Sweeney actually had a relatively easy play on the ball.
This game is running as fast as the first one. Just past the halfway mark, we're only 1:20 in. Maybe I'll get to watch the Lakers play life after all. Marco Scutaro hits a grounder to short, and Cabrera makes a nice high throw to Powell for the out. A great changeup on the first pitch to Aaron Hill has Hill way out in front for an easy pop fly into center. A 1-2-3 inning for Braden, and a quick one at that, gets the A's offense back onto the field, with the 2-3-4 hitters coming up.
Cabrera continues to struggle against Toronto pitching as he hits a fliner (kind of in between a fly and a liner) at Rios in right for the first out.
Giambi doesn't get cheated on the first pitch from Romero, swinging hard at a fastball. He missed, though. Giambi winds up rolling right into the shift, although the ball was hit softly enough that a normal second baseman would have gotten over and made the play anyway.
Matt Holliday follows up with a lucky hit, swinging hard at an inside fastball, not really getting squared up on it, but having it dunk in behind the shortstop for a single. Jack Cust has a chance to come through, and fails miserably, whiffing on a breaking ball in the dirt away to end the inning. Romero is more or less dominating the A's today.
Braden does a nice job of jamming Alex Rios to lead off the inning, getting him to hit a hiiiiigh pop to Mark Ellis a few feet behind his position.
Braden has only just now hit 70 pitches in the game, although unfortunately, that 70th pitch is ball four to Vernon Wells. The announcers were talking about Braden's pickoff move earlier, and he shows it off now, nearly picking Wells off of first base. He follows that up by getting Millar to ground hard to Chavez at third, who throws to Ellis at second for the first out (he makes that throw so well). Ellis pulls a Cabrera, short-hopping Powell at first, but this time, Powell has learned how to do it and he makes the catch to complete the double play. Braden finishes the sixth inning having given up just one run and thrown only 72 pitches. I'm not sure where Romero stands on his pitch count, but we could see dual complete games in this one.
Eric Chavez will be the first to try to prevent that from happening, but he's down 0-2 and then rolls over one to second for the first out of the inning. Suzuki starts off better, getting ahead 3-1 on Romero, taking a couple of pitches in the dirt before taking ball four down low. That's the last Romero will see of Suzuki, since he's at 105 pitches for the game, according to the PBP guy, so it looks like Suzuki won the matchup: a hit, a walk, and a strikeout. But it doesn't matter, because Mark Ellis grounds into the easy 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. Dammit. Hopefully Romero is done for the day with his 106 pitches, because the A's need to see someone new.
Braden shows why his pitch count is so low, getting to 0-2 on Rolen to start the inning. Rolen winds up getting under a low fastball and lifting an out to Sweeney in right-center. Sweeney's defensive stats are going to look pretty good from this game -- he's taking a lot of outs that right-fielders usually take.
Overbay then hits another flyout, a popup into shallow left with Holliday catches on the jog. Braden really is a classic fly-ball pitcher, getting most of his outs that way, and thus not allowing many hits either. The key has been getting the fly balls to be more on the popup side of things than the line drive side. But just as I say that, there's a ground ball, and it's sharply hit through the 34 hole for a single by Raul Chavez.
Braden strands that runner, though, by taking advantage of the largish strike zone, throwing two fastballs on (really, probably off) the outside corner to get Travis Snider looking. I think Braden's probably at about 84 pitches for the game now, which moves him that much closer to the complete-game bid. Of course, if the A's don't score, it'll be easier for Braden, since he'll only have to throw eight to get there.
Ricky Romero is indeed done and the lefty Scott Downs, who's pitched six games (6.2 innings) while allowing just two hits and no runs, with ten strikeouts, comes on. Maybe I'd rather the A's be seeing Romero, as good as Downs has been. And indeed, Downs gets ahead 0-2 on Powell with fastballs on the outside half that Powell whiffs on. Powell takes the next two down in the dirt for balls, but then swings and misses on the 2-2 fastball that's nearly identical to the first two pitches for a strikeout.
Sweeney follows that up by striking out swinging as well. Downs is making quality pitches here, and the A's are swinging at those pitches, mostly because they have to. The pitch Sweeney struck out on was low and in, but you have to protect with two strikes. Cabrera then hits a weak grounder to Rolen at third to end the inning. At least this means Oakland will have Giambi, Holliday, and Cust up to face BJ Ryan in the 9th.
The first pitch from Braden to Scutaro misses, but god knows where. It looked right down the middle to me. I guess it was high. Apparently Braden's pitch count is more in the 90 range, so I'd guess this'll be his last inning whether the A's score in the 9th or not. Scutaro hits a high fly ball that actually carries well into left, but Holliday settles beneath it and makes the catch on the warning track.
Braden can't follow up that out well, though, walking Aaron Hill on four pitches, which brings Bob Geren out of the dugout to call on Russ Springer to pitch his second straight game. Dallas Braden gets shafted on this one, pitching 7 1/3 innings of very good baseball, giving up just one run (potentially two), and at best, he can take a no-decision. The way the A's have swung the bat, it's more likely that he'll take a loss. This is the A's the of the last few years, not the new-look 2009 A's, isn't it? Not scoring a single run for your pitcher who does a tremendous job for you? I thought Giambi and Holliday and Cabrera were supposed to change all that.
Springer decides to channel Braden, throwing a slider that Rios gets under for a high fly in right that Cust catches while drifting toward the foul line. Springer blows a 1-1 fastball up and in past Wells. Wells looks anxious to hit those pitches, but he'd be better off taking them to get better ones later in the count. Springer looks like he had the strikeout looking on the next pitch, but the ump ruled his fastball just off the corner, or perhaps just high. The strike zone has looked bigger to the right (from the pitcher's perspective) side of the plate than to the left in this game, regardless of which batters' box the hitters have been standing in. Springer gets to 3-2 on Wells, a couple of pitches are fouled back, and then he throws a fastball on the outer half past him. Wells got a tiny piece of the ball, but it went right into Suzuki's mitt for the strikeout.
So up come the A's against BJ Ryan, trying to avoid getting shut out again, and trying to hand Toronto their first series loss of the season. Unless the A's score, this game is going to be completed in under two and a half hours. Ryan does have an ERA just under ten, and opponents are hitting over .400 on him, so there's some hope here.
Giambi is out, though, as Ryan jams him with a fastball for a groundout right at Scutaro in his shifted position. Matt Holliday gives the A's some hope, though, flaring a little bloop into right for his second hit of the game, and his second lucky hit of the game.
If Cust doesn't get on base here, the announcers note, it'll bring a 40-game streak of getting on base at least once, stretching back, obviously, to last year. That's the third-longest streak in A's history. He's down 0-2, though, after a fastball is called for the second strike in that big right-side strike zone. Cust does a nice job holding up on a tough breaking ball in the dirt on 1-2, so the count is now even. Ryan jammed him with a fastball inside, but Cust fouled it back out of play. That's seven pitches now in the at-bat. Ryan then places a fastball right in the big part of the strike zone, that outside part. There's no way Cust can reach it, and he watches it go by for strike three. Ugh.
Chavez grounds out weakly to BJ Ryan and it's a 1-0 loss for the A's. I'm extremely frustrated by the A's hitting, by Mike Gallego's call sending Mark Ellis home, by the umpire's imbalanced strike zone, and generally by the game of baseball.