How many gut-wrenching ways can the A’s find to lose?
The Chicago White Sox’s Tyler Flowers broke their hearts twice, first with a game-tying homer in the ninth, and then with a walk-off blast in the 12th off Jesse Chavez to sink the A’s 5-4 on Monday night at U.S. Cellular Field.
It was the second day in a row the A’s couldn’t hold a one-run lead in the ninth, and they’ve got to be wondering what they need to do to salt away a victory at this point. That makes 11 losses in their past 15 games. Looking to wipe the slate clean after Sunday’s five-walk effort from the bullpen that handed the Astros a win, the A’s instead found just as astonishing a way to fall Monday.
Interim closer Eric O’Flaherty, unavailable the previous couple of days because of back tightness, got the first two outs of the bottom of the ninth and was one strike away from wrapping things up when he hung a slider to Flowers, who smacked a homer to left field to tie it 4-4.
In the bottom of the 12th, Chavez got the first out but then hung a breaking ball, and Flowers hit a high drive that cleared the left field wall to end it.
The A’s can’t get injured All-Star closer Sean Doolittle back fast enough. He’s scheduled to return perhaps Thursday or Friday. But although the bullpen ultimately let the A’s down again Monday, they had a chance to add to a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth, but they stranded a runner at third with no outs.
Starting pitching report
As is often his style, Sonny Gray got off to a shaky start when he walked his first two hitters and gave up two runs in the first. After that, the right-hander settled in and lasted seven innings, allowing just four hits.
Pitching with a 3-2 lead in the sixth, he got ahead of Conor Gillaspie 1-2 before he elevated a fastball and Gillaspie spanked it for a tying home run. Big picture, Gray ate up innings and gave the A’s a quality start.
O’Flaherty’s status was up in the air entering Monday. But he threw off the mound before the game, and his back came out of it OK, and the lefty was available for just his second save opportunity as Doolittle’s fill-in. O’Flaherty didn’t have previous closing experience before Doolittle’s injury.
At the plate
A walk, a steal, a bunt single.
The eighth inning brought an offensive attack you don’t always see from the A’s, but a little more of it wouldn’t be a bad idea given their difficulty scoring.
The A’s went the manufacturing route to push across the go-ahead run that seemed like it might do the trick on this night.
With the score 3-3 in the eighth, pinch hitter Alberto Callaspo worked a one-out walk off Sox reliever Eric Surkamp. Then speedy Billy Burns, called up last week as rosters expanded, stole second to get into scoring position. The A’s benefited from some shaky defense, as left fielder Dayan Viciedo pulled up on Coco Crisp’s seemingly catchable fly ball and let it drop for a single, moving Burns to third. Sam Fuld dropped a perfect drag bunt to the right side, and Burns scored to make it 4-3.
To be accurate, Oakland got some power too. Josh Reddick and Jed Lowrie hit back-to-back homers in the fifth to give the A’s a short-lived 3-2 lead. Both players have provided the A’s a lift lately, particularly Lowrie. He came in 9-for-23 (.391) since coming off the disabled list and is giving the bottom third of the order a boost.
But Flowers’ game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth was a byproduct of the A’s inability to add an insurance run in the top half. Derek Norris tripled to lead off the ninth, but that’s where he stayed. Josh Reddick grounded out to first, and after Jed Lowrie was intentionally walked, Nate Freiman grounded into an inning-ending double play.
In the field
Fuld shined in left field with two standout catches.
He made a leaping grab at the fence on Alexei Ramirez’s deep drive in the fifth. Then Fuld came charging in and left his feet to haul in Jose Abreu’s shallow fly to end the 10th inning.
Both teams had their forgettable moments with the glove. Oakland’s came during the Sox’s two-run first. With runners on the corners, Brandon Moss had Conor Gillaspie’s bouncer clank off his glove for an error. Adam Eaton came racing home from third on a play where Moss should have gotten an out somewhere.
Then Viciedo had his moment of confusion on Crisp’s fly ball in the eighth that aided the A’s rally to take a 4-3 lead.
Jon Lester (13-10, 2.54) is 0-3 over his past four starts, but he’s received just four runs of support in those four outings and his defense has committed five errors. He’ll oppose lefty John Danks (9-10, 5.12) in Tuesday’s 5:10 p.m. game.