A’s lose 3-2 and make some more curious 9th-inning moves
If there’s one thing the Oakland A’s will take away from their 2021 season series against the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles, it’s that John Means Business.
The A’s were stymied by the lefty starter for the second time in a week, falling 3-2 on Friday in the opener of a three-game series at the Coliseum. The gem by Means extinguished the quality debut of Mike Fiers, who pitched for the first time this year after beginning the season on the injured list.
Last Sunday, Means kept Oakland quiet into the 7th inning, in a victory that avoided a series sweep by the A’s at Camden Yards. He repeated that effort tonight, polishing off seven frames and allowing just two solo homers, a single, and a walk. Despite that sparkling line, including nine strikeouts and a whopping 22 swinging strikes on 93 pitches, his ERA still rose — to 1.70.
Oakland scored the first run of the evening, on a dinger by Sean Murphy.
And then the next batter, Matt Chapman, worked a tough walk! Maybe they’d figure out Means this time.
Nope. The next 14 batters were retired in order. Then a bloop jamshot single! Then another out. That was the end of the 6th inning, and meanwhile the Orioles had taken a modest 3-1 lead.
In the 7th, the A’s got one back, narrowing the margin to 3-2.
That’s Mitch Moreland, going deep off a nasty lefty. Yesterday he smashed a double off a 99 mph fastball from southpaw Shane McClanahan. A couple weeks ago, his second walk-off single of the year came against a lefty reliever.
My point is, even though you’d rather have the platoon advantage, it doesn’t mean your good hitters can’t still have good results in meaningful moments against same-hand pitching. Lord knows we’ve seen Matt Olson hit enough game-winning moonshots off lefties to ever doubt him again. That’s why it was a poor decision to pinch-hit for Moreland in the 9th on Wednesday, when doing so put their worst hitters in high-leverage spots instead.
Swap out a good hitter for another good hitter who’s a superior matchup, sure, but not for a bad hitter. They did it again tonight in the 9th, though it didn’t involve Moreland this time.
The A’s got their first two batters on base against Orioles closer Cesar Valdez, and Moreland nearly came through with a smash to the left side. But the 104 mph rocket went right into a glove for a loud lineout, and the runner on second was nearly doubled off — a replay review actually went Oakland’s way!
With two on and one out, and the righty Valdez on the mound, the A’s had righties Stephen Piscotty and Elvis Andrus due up, with lefty Seth Brown available to pinch-hit. Piscotty is off to a decent bounce-back start this year, and only nine months ago we were marveling at how many clutch 9th-inning grand slams he was hitting, and that was during an off-year at the plate. Andrus is batting .159 this year, down from .194 last year, with a .406 OPS.
Rather than let Piscotty hit and then sub Brown for Andrus, Brown was rushed in for Piscotty. It nearly worked! He hit the ball 367 feet, but it fell short for an out. Then the coldest hitter on the roster was easily retired to end the game.
I simply don’t understand the play here. Sure, Piscotty might have grounded into a double play and left Brown on deck, but that’s not enough to justify the tradeoff. You simply have to choose Piscotty over Andrus there, because it’s like having two chances for a hit instead of one-and-hold-your-breath.
It may not have mattered either way, but the A’s did not put themselves in the best position to win in the 9th. For the second time in three games, they played their cards too soon and in the wrong hands, and ended up with four-fifths of a flush. That’s just enough to lose every time.
But hey, fun fact! Valdez briefly pitched for the A’s in 2017, leading to this stat.
Oldest Former #Athletics to record a Save vs the A’s
Rick Honeycutt 39 ’94
Rollie Fingers 36-38 ’82, 84-85
Diego Segui 36 ’74
Dennis Lamp 36 ’89
Cesar Valdez 36 Tonight
— David Feldman (@dfeldy) May 1, 2021
More details coming, Fiers’ start. Keep hitting refresh!