ANAHEIM –- Jesse Chavez did his job on the mound Friday night.
Perhaps the tougher task came afterward, fielding questions about another game that should have finished with a ‘W’ next to his name.
The A’s suffered another doozy of a defeat, the kind that they should be numb to if only the pain wasn’t so fresh each and every time.
They used three home runs to take a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth, then watched another bullpen meltdown result in a 5-4 loss to open a three-game series against the Angels. Setup man Evan Scribner gave up a tying home run to defending AL MVP Mike Trout, then two batters later gave up a go-ahead shot to Kole Calhoun.
The clubhouse was predictably silent afterward, except for the quiet Q & A’s taking place between players and reporters. When it was Chavez’s turn to talk, he said all the right things, as he always does.
Chavez’s 2.64 ERA is eighth lowest in the league, but he has a 2-6 record to show for it. That’s mainly because of measly run support that was the lowest in the majors entering Friday. On this night, he got a season-best four runs before he left after seven innings. It was his bullpen that did him in this time.
[Instant Replay: A's fall to Angels in battle of long ball]
“You feel for them,” Chavez said of the A’s bullpen, of which he was a member until joining the rotation in late April. “Being down there to start the year, being a part of it. … Those guys down there are great. It’s just the way the ball is going right now, the way the season has gone for us. Those guys down there have all the tools to get the job done.”
Manager Bob Melvin was in no mood to offer an encouraging pat on the back through the media in his postgame comments. His criticism of his bullpen was some of his sharpest yet this season.
“It really doesn’t matter if it’s frustrating or not,” Melvin said. “We just have to find a way to get better than we have. The numbers indicate where we are, and it’s not good. It’s the reason we’re losing games like that.”
The A’s 4.79 bullpen ERA is the worst in the majors, and the unit’s 15 losses are tied for the most. Before, it seemed the biggest issue was the middle relief not being able to transfer a lead to Scribner in the eighth and closer Tyler Clippard in the ninth. What makes losses like Friday’s sting so much is the stuff that the A’s did so right.
They got seven quality innings from Chavez. They got back-to-back homers from Brett Lawrie and Josh Phegley in the fourth to take a lead, then a two-run shot from Josh Reddick in the seventh to reclaim the lead, 4-3.
Back on April 28 at the Coliseum, Scribner struck out Trout, Albert Pujols and David Freese in succession to close out a 6-2 victory. Trout stepped to the plate to lead off the bottom of the eighth Friday. Scribner got ahead 1-2 in the count and tried to bury a slider in the dirt.
“I got him on it a couple times early in the year,” Scribner said. “I just didn’t get it where I was trying to.”
He hung it right over the plate, and Trout mashed it 443 feet to dead center, up on the grass beyond the tall hedges behind the outfield wall.
After Pujols put a charge into a warning-track fly ball to left, Scribner left a 1-0 fastball out over the plate and Calhoun went deep to right to break the 4-4 tie.
“We have to execute better pitches than that,” Melvin said.
Asked if there was any more shuffling of roles he could do to find a consistent formula with his bullpen, he replied:
“Really can’t right now. We’ve got a lot of lefties, and (the Angels) have a lot of righties, which makes it difficult. A lot of the guys we expected to be pitching later in the game right now are in (Triple-A) Nashville, whether it’s (Dan) Otero or whether it’s (Ryan) Cook …”
There’s no sure-fire fix for the late-inning woes. Which means every time the A’s seem to take an encouraging step forward, a painful step backward could be coming right after it.