MLB embarrasses itself again, but A’s win anyway
Major League Baseball’s replay review system continues to be an embarrassment to the sport, but the Oakland A’s didn’t let it stop them from hopping back into the win column on Monday.
The A’s held on for a tight 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, despite having a third run taken away on another botched replay call. Catcher Sean Murphy led the way for the green-and-gold, driving in both runs and providing sparkling defensive work behind the plate, and Oakland has now won 14 of their last 15 contests after snapping a 13-game win streak on Sunday.
The evening began as a pitching duel between two lefty starters. Sean Manaea gutted through five innings for the A’s, and Rich Hill completed six for the Rays, striking out 16 batters between them. But both of them blinked once, and Hill’s mistake proved more costly.
Tampa Bay got their run right away. Randy Arozarena singled to lead off the 1st inning, then moved to second base on a groundout, then stole third, and then came home on a sac fly.
But that sentence sells the sequence short, as the groundout and the sac fly were both notable. The fly was arguably the best piece of contact of the game and could just as easily have been a double if it hadn’t gone straight at a fielder. On the other hand, the groundout also might have been a double play, if it hadn’t drilled Manaea on the way up the middle — and the 105 mph rocket to the calf could have hurt the southpaw, but fortunately didn’t. Also a nice play by Manaea to recover and field it in time for the out.
— A’s on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) April 26, 2021
After that shaky inning, Manaea settled down. He retired the next four batters, then worked around a few baserunners, and never let another Ray reach third.
- Manaea: 5 ip, 1 run, 6 Ks, 2 BB, 4 hits, 100 pitches, 91.0 mph EV
It’s not that he dominated, as he only had one perfect frame. But he made enough pitches and missed enough bats to never let any rally extend or get out of hand.
Sean Manaea, Wicked 81mph Breaking Ball. pic.twitter.com/jTyfGDfG3A
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 27, 2021
Meanwhile, Hill kept the A’s off the board until the 4th, looking unhittable with his physically impossible curveball and varying arm angles. But with two outs in the inning, Matt Chapman worked a walk, and Murphy got a meatball down the middle and capitalized on the opportunity.
At 367 feet the distance wasn’t exceptional, but what made the blast so impressive was the 40-degree launch angle. That usually results in a skyout, and we lament that the batter just got under it. Once you get up over 30 degrees you’re much more likely to get out than get a hit, and at 40 and above you probably need either perfect lucky placement in no-man’s land or for the ball to get lost in the sun.
Murphy’s fly had an expected batting average of .270, but he hit it hard enough to find the first row of seats to make good on the long odds. It’s the highest launch angle for an A’s homer so far this year. More importantly, it drove in their only two runs of the game, which fortunately were the only two they needed.
After producing both runs on offense, Murphy also helped keep the opponent off the board on defense. In the 5th he helped out Manaea by throwing out a runner trying to steal second, eliminating a leadoff walk and easing the tension as the lefty approached 100 pitches. Then in the 6th, with Yusmeiro Petit on the mound in relief, Murphy fielded a tough bunt by the speedy Manuel Margot to get the out at first.
Petit ended up completing two perfect innings, and then Jake Diekman worked through a rocky 8th without damage. Lou Trivino pitched the 9th, getting two outs and then putting two runners on base. His first pitch to the next batter was a curve in the dirt a mile outside but Murphy deftly swooped over to snare it and hold the runners, and then on the next pitch Trivino induced a flyout to seal the save.
While the A’s lineup didn’t get much going on offense, they did contribute on defense. In addition to Murphy’s efforts, Stephen Piscotty saved at least one run with a great diving catch in right field. This was not good contact but could have landed for an infuriating bloop and at least one RBI, and with two outs on the board the runner on first may have scored too if Piscotty had laid out and missed. Instead the inning ended and everyone was stranded.
In the other outfield corner, Tony Kemp nearly made an even better highlight. On a foul ball to left field, Kemp raced to the short wall and reached over, causing him to flip over the wall and tumble to the ground. Fortunately he was OK!
What an effort by Tony Kemp pic.twitter.com/ByUD8Iy0Lm
— A’s on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) April 26, 2021
Here’s how close he came to catching it. Gotta love the effort! And the batter struck out on the next pitch.
— Brodie Brazil (@BrodieNBCS) April 26, 2021
This was one of those games where the A’s didn’t do everything well, but they did enough well. The offense was cold after a lengthy hot streak this month, but still muscled one over the fence. The pitching wasn’t perfect but it was sharp enough, and the defense made some key plays to pick up any slack. Add it up, and you’ve got a road victory against the defending AL champions.
Alright, now we have to talk about the other story from tonight. MLB blew another replay review call.
In the 7th, with Elvis Andrus on first base, Kemp hit a popup to shallow left. But the Rays couldn’t find it and it dropped to the carpet, and with two outs on the board Andrus had been running on contact. Tampa Bay picked up the ball in time to make a throw to the plate, and it was bang-bang. Andrus was called out on the field.
But wait! Replay said otherwise, and in slow-motion it wasn’t even close — Andrus was clearly safe. The call went to review, and somehow, someway, the booth in New York upheld the out.
Andrus was called out on the field AND after review pic.twitter.com/S99TJmWEl5
— A’s on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) April 27, 2021
I don’t know what’s left to say. Replay review is simply broken and needs to be fundamentally changed or else scrapped entirely. I’m not even sure incompetence works as an excuse anymore. The likeliest explanation is that umpires are reluctant to overturn each other’s calls and are therefore not operating in good faith, choosing ego over unbiased honesty, which damages the competitive integrity of the game.
We’ll get more into this in another article soon. What matters here is that the run should have counted but didn’t, and fortunately it didn’t end up mattering because the Rays never scored again. It would have been an absolute shame to see this game swing on such an absurd failure by the officiating crew, though not at all unique, not even in this early season — ask the Braves about that.
Manager Bob Melvin stormed out of the dugout to argue the umps’ mistake and was quickly ejected, as is the rule in such situations. After the game he didn’t even let Matt Kawahara of the S.F. Chronicle finish asking the question before providing this concise and direct answer:
“He was safe. That was the point I was going to try to make. It was a terrible call.” — Bob Melvin on Andrus call at home
— Alex Coffey (@byalexcoffey) April 27, 2021
In related news, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred doesn’t care what you or I or Melvin think about anything, on top of not seeming to like baseball very much.
Back to happy thoughts
With that out of the way, let’s celebrate a win that was thankfully not stolen away by the league. Mark Canha also made some bittersweet history, earning the 59th hit-by-pitch of his career to tie Sal Bando for the all-time Oakland lead. Yay?
Happy thoughts! The A’s won, over a top contender, their budding star catcher played like a full-blown star, their hottest starting pitcher stayed hot, and their new closer converted another save. Now to see if they can find a new wave and turn it into another win streak.