KANSAS CITY – The A’s got unexpected production Tuesday night from an area of the team (the offense) that’s often struggled.
They struggled in an area (pitching) that you’d assume they’d take care of business.
The end result was a dramatic, gut-wrenching 9-8 loss to the Royals in the American League Wild Card game that ended the A’s season.
[INSTANT REPLAY: A's season ends with collapse in Kansas City]
Somehow, it all seemed to tie this strange 2014 season together in one fitting package, though the end result wasn’t what anyone in green and gold wanted.
“I think it’s circulating that it’s kind of a microcosm of our season, and I think that’s a fair assessment,” shortstop Jed Lowrie said.
The game was unfolding in fairy-tale fashion for Oakland. Brandon Moss bashed two home runs and drove in five runs. His heroics seemed to rub off on his teammates, as Coco Crisp and Derek Norris each chipped in RBI singles during a five-run sixth that opened up a 7-3 lead for the A’s.
Kansas City right-hander James Shields was out of the game. The raucous Kauffman Stadium crowd was unleashing its venom on Royals manager Ned Yost, who picked a curious time to pull his ace pitcher.
The A’s were in the driver’s seat, seemingly primed for an impressive victory that suggested they might have an extended postseason run in them.
But it didn’t happen, as the wheels began to come off for starter Jon Lester in the bottom of the eighth. He left with the score 7-4. Two more runs came in with Luke Gregerson on the mound. Then the Royals tied it off Doolittle in the ninth.
Doolittle and Otero each stranded runners at third in the 10th and 11th, respectively. But after Alberto Callaspo’s RBI single put the A’s up 8-7, Kansas City struck back.
Eric Hosmer’s triple was the result of center fielder Sam Fuld and left fielder Jonny Gomes colliding in mid-air as each jumped for the ball at the wall (Gomes was only in because Coco Crisp suffered a late-game hamstring injury). Hosmer scored the tying run when Christian Colon chopped an infield single that Donaldson couldn’t make a charging play on. Then, after Colon stole second (one of a whopping seven stolen bases the Royals notched), Salvador Perez ended it with a walkoff single down the left field line off Jason Hammel.
After the game, Doolittle spoke quietly, pausing for long periods to gather himself between answers as the emotions of the 4-hour, 45-minute game set in.
“To have the situation we had, a four-run lead, Lester pitching …” Doolittle said, “our guys swinging the bats the way they were. There’s a lot of pride down there in that bullpen, and I think throughout the course of the season it’s been one of the strengths of the team. And to let it slip away the way that we did and lose it the way that we did is incredibly frustrating.”
Prosperity just wasn’t a good thing for the 2014 A’s. They coasted with the major leagues’ best record for a large chunk of the season, then couldn’t hit the breaks when things started going bad. On Tuesday, they couldn’t find a way to make their four-run lead stand with their ace on the mound in Lester, and a strong bullpen seemingly equipped to finish the job.
“You come out here and score eight runs, you feel like you’re gonna win this ballgame,” right fielder Josh Reddick said. “You’ve got one of the best guys in baseball on the mound, you come out and score seven in first (six innings), you know you’re winning that game. It’s just one of those situations where this game is unpredictable.”
Understandably, Moss couldn’t draw any immediate satisfaction from his monster night. He set a franchise record for most RBI in a postseason game and became the first Athletic to hit multiple homers in a playoff game since Milton Bradley swatted two in 2006 against Detroit.
“This is the best team I’ve ever been a part of,” Moss said. “Personality-wise and talent-wise. The end result is disappointing because when you have talent like that, you know there’s a lot you can do with it and with talent comes expectations. We had expectations for ourselves, and obviously we didn’t meet them.”