ARLINGTON, Texas – Given the chance to get the party started on their own, the A’s couldn’t nail things down Saturday in a 5-4 loss to the Rangers.
That left their magic number at one, for the time being, to clinch a wild-card berth. But a Seattle Mariners loss to the Los Angeles Angels would do it for Oakland on Saturday night, and the Mariners were tied 1-1 in the seventh inning at the conclusion of the A’s game.
The A’s, lacking offense to support strong pitching of late, flipped the script to some degree Saturday. They churned out 14 hits and closed their gap from 5-2 to 5-4 with two runs in the eighth, but Rangers closer Neftali Feliz nailed things down in the ninth for Texas.
A’s starter Jeff Samardzija, who carried a 1.40 ERA over his previous six starts, wasn’t as untouchable in this one. The A’s trailed 5-2 by the time his night ended after seven innings.
So the A’s left the field not knowing if they’d be celebrating later in the night. A Seattle victory would mean the A’s need either a victory Sunday in game 162, or a Mariners loss, to avoid a Monday tiebreaker game in Seattle to decide the American League’s second wild card team.
Starting pitching report
A dominant six-start run came to an end for Samardzija (5-6), who got tagged for two homers and five runs over seven innings. After a Josh Donaldson homer in the top of the first gave him a lead, the Rangers struck right back for two runs on three hits off Samardzija in the bottom half.
He caught too much plate on a 2-1 pitch to Jake Smolinski in the fourth, and Smolinski crushed a solo shot to left to make it 3-1. The A’s closed to within a run the next inning, but Robinson Chirinos connected for a two-run homer in the seventh to extend the Rangers’ lead to 5-2.
Samardzija gave up five runs on eight hits over seven innings. He’d surrendered just five runs combined (four earned) over his previous four starts.
Fernando Abad and Dan Otero were effective in relief of Samardzija, handling the final two innings.
At the plate
The A’s appeared to catch a break when Rangers left-hander Derek Holland was scratched with a migraine headache. Texas instead started right-hander Scott Baker, who hadn’t pitched in a game since Sept. 5.
Baker was charged with two runs over four-plus innings, but the A’s then struggled to break through against a parade of Texas relievers for the next few innings. Nate Freiman, pinch-hitting for Stephen Vogt in the fifth, grounded into a 6-4-3 double play that scored a run but snuffed out a potential bigger rally considering runners were on the corners. Brandon Moss hit into a 4-6-3 double play with two on to end the top of the sixth.
The A’s also had two runners caught stealing at second, making them 0-for-3 on steal attempts in this series. With one out in the ninth, Billy Burns pinch-ran for Nick Punto but was thrown out trying to swipe second on a great throw from Chirinos.
In the field
The Rangers didn’t waste time testing A’s catcher Geovany Soto. Elvis Andrus stole second in the bottom of the first, then came home on Rougned Odor’s RBI single. Andrus singled again in the third and broke for second on the first pitch after that. He was originally called safe, but A’s manager Bob Melvin challenged and the call was overturned. Soto then threw out his second base runner to end the fifth, when he threw an on-the-money laser to nail Leonys Martin at second.
It was painful just watching Donaldson hobble to first to beat out an infield single in the sixth. But a sore left knee didn’t appear to hinder him in the field. He made a diving stop to his left in the second and threw to first to get Jim Adduci.
The announced turnout was 35,326.
Sonny Gray (13-10, 3.21) has yet to register a victory in five September starts. He’ll take the mound in Sunday’s regular-season finale. Nick Martinez (5-11, 4.61) is scheduled to go for Texas, although lefty Derek Holland – scratched from Saturday’s game because of a migraine headache – could conceivably take the ball if he’s feeling better. First pitch is 12:05 p.m.