PHOENIX – Depending on who you were talking to Friday night, the postgame discourse in the A’s clubhouse ran the gamut from regret and self-criticism about some plays to second-guessing about others.
There were enough mistakes in a 6-4 defeat to the Arizona Diamondbacks to be interpreted every which way. But a loss is a loss, and some just don’t go down easy, even for a team that’s playing out the string as the A’s are.
Ace Sonny Gray wasn’t his sharpest, but he dug deep into his repertoire and was in a position to win and strengthen his Cy Young award resume. But the night turned in Arizona’s favor in the bottom of the sixth, when the Diamondbacks rallied to erase a 2-0 deficit with help from two passed balls that got away from catcher Stephen Vogt.
One was on a sneaky slider that rang up Paul Goldschmidt for strike three, but the pitch bounced off Vogt’s glove and allowed Goldschmidt to reach first and put runners on the corners with one out.
“We’ve talked all year about how hard it is to give teams four and five outs,” Vogt said. “He makes a great pitch to strike out the National League MVP, in my opinion, and I can’t catch those freakin’ balls to keep him off first. Obviously I’m very frustrated with myself.”
Even when he doesn’t bring his ‘A’ game, Gray often finds a way to be effective. He got through five scoreless innings relying more heavily on his changeup than normal. Gray wasn’t heaping blame on Vogt for the passed balls, which preceded David Peralta’s RBI double and Wellington Castillo’s sacrifice fly to make it 2-2.
The right-hander instead said he needed to be sharper coming out for the bottom of the seventh, when he gave up consecutive doubles to Chris Owings and pinch hitter Aaron Hill to put the Diamondbacks ahead for good.
But pitching in a National League ballpark provided an extra challenge for Gray. After a long sixth, he had to bat in the top of the seventh and struck out for the third out, then was right back out on the mound. He said it was a physical and mental adjustment that he needed to handle better.
“It’s an adjustment to come over and play in the National League, but it’s something I’ve got to be able to do,” Gray said.
After allowing two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings, Gray still carries an AL-best 2.13 ERA. But at 12-6, he sure could use more wins to boost his Cy Young candidacy. His peripheral stats are excellent, but he doesn’t have jaw-dropping strikeout numbers. Getting back to the critical bottom of the sixth, A’s first baseman Mark Canha made a curious decision in cutting off the throw home from right fielder Josh Reddick on Castillo’s sacrifice fly that tied it.
Reddick caught the ball in foul territory, which is a judgement call in a close game with less than two outs and a runner at third.
“If he feels like has a chance to throw him out, (it’s a good decision to catch it),” manager Bob Melvin said.
Reddick wasn’t very deep, and he unleashed a throw from right up against the wall along the foul line. It’s an odd angle from which to view a throw home. Vogt thought the throw was on line and the A’s would have had a chance to get Castillo, though he wasn’t blaming Canha, who might have had designs on throwing to third to try to get David Peralta had he not dropped Reddick’s throw as he cut it off.
“That’s kind of fish-out-of-water territory for a first baseman,” Vogt said.
Reddick wasn’t as charitable in his comments about Canha cutting the ball off. His aggravation also was apparent on the field in the immediate aftermath.
“I looked at it (on video),” Reddick said. “From the release it looked pretty good. It may or may not have got him, but obviously everybody saw I wasn’t happy with the cutoff. Everybody is in agreement there’s no need to cut that ball off anyway, whether he beats it by 10 feet or two feet. You never know when you’re gonna have a play. Cutting that ball off does nothing.”
The game wasn’t won or lost with that play. Gray gave up the go-ahead run in the seventh, then reliever Pat Venditte gave up three more.
But Reddick’s comments – more specifically, the frustration they stemmed from -- summed up the A’s night. In fact, it could sum up a lot of nights in a season where so many costly mistakes have meant the difference between the A’s winning and losing.