OAKLAND -– The diagnosis of the A’s problems seems simple enough: A bullpen that can’t get the big outs, accompanied by a defense that isn’t making the crucial plays.
However, the losses keep coming with an unexpected twist, the kind where you can only shake your head trying to make sense of it.
Of all people, third base coach Mike Gallego was the one with reporters and cameras surrounding him after Oakland’s 7-6 loss to the White Sox on Friday. A moment’s indecision doomed the A’s in the bottom of the ninth, as Gallego admitted he was late holding up Stephen Vogt at third base on Coco Crisp’s double to left-center with two outs.
Vogt wound up in a rundown between third and home and was tagged out in the most mind-boggling finish yet to any of the A’s 24 losses.
“It was a bad call on my part,” Gallego said. “Too late. It’s tough to lose a game in that manner, the way these guys keep coming back.”
As Crisp’s liner made a beeline for the gap, Vogt was chugging around the bases from first. The ball bounced perfectly off the wall to center fielder Adam Eaton. He relayed to shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who fired a strike to first baseman Jose Abreu in the middle of the infield, and Vogt was hung out to dry.
It was a perfectly executed 8-6-3-5-2 putout, not that anyone knew such a thing existed.
Gallego was waving Vogt around and didn’t throw up the stop sign until Vogt hit the bag, and by that point Vogt couldn’t apply the breaks fast enough.
“As soon as I saw the ball come out of (Ramirez’s) hand right there, I knew I was a little late,” Gallego said.
That decision could be analyzed for hours, but the bottom line is the game never should have gotten to the bottom of the ninth. The A’s let a 6-2 lead disintegrate in the seventh. Starter Jesse Hahn left with two runners aboard and one out, then the White Sox scored five runs (all with two outs) against Fernando Rodriguez, Fernando Abad (1-2) and Evan Scribner.
Rodriguez only shoulders so much blame. He induced a potential double-play grounder that Marcus Semien and Eric Sogard couldn’t turn, then got a bouncer from Melky Cabrera that went for an RBI single when third baseman Brett Lawrie stopped pursuing the ball, seemingly unaware that Semien had broken to cover second on Adam Eaton’s steal attempt.
But it showed that Rodriguez, solid since coming up from the minors, isn’t immune to the late-inning disaster that strikes the A’s with regularity. Oakland’s bullpen has now taken a major league-worst 11 losses, and the A’s are 1-18 when the relievers allow two runs or more.
“It seems like we’ve had quite a few of these,” manager Bob Melvin said, “where a foot one way or another, one good at-bat, one good play, we end up winning the game. And we always end up losing it. … We had three guys in the inning we felt like could do the job. We just couldn’t get it done.”
As always, the A’s ill-timed defensive flaws always seem to haun them. The aforementioned defensive miscues in the seventh gave the Sox life, and Chicago found a way to take advantage.
Hahn’s gritty start –- he buckled down and threw 6 1/3 solid innings after a turbulent first -– went by the wayside. Oakland got a three-run go-ahead triple from Josh Reddick, and that too went to waste.
The A’s can’t get out of their own way long enough to take advantage of whatever good things they do over the course of a game. At 13-24, they own the major leagues’ worst record.
“To see that lead go away like that, that’s what’s been hurting us all year,” Vogt said. “A couple defensive errors, and then it seems like teams just capitalize on that. They smell blood and just go for it.”