OAKLAND -– The pieces seemed to come together for the A’s on Sunday, and it should have equated to victory.
They got key run-scoring hits from Craig Gentry and Brett Lawrie, players who have been relatively silent offensively. Ryan Cook announced his return to Oakland’s bullpen by flashing dominant form in a 1-2-3 seventh inning. Closer Tyler Clippard was called upon in the eighth and registered a key out with the tying run on third base.
In short, it looked like the A’s channeled the fury that manager Bob Melvin showed in his fourth-inning ejection and would ride it to a comeback win. But as has been the case too often this season, victory found a way to elude them.
A 7-6 loss to Houston completed a weekend sweep for the Astros and sent the A’s to their fourth consecutive loss. They’ll gladly take Monday’s day off to collect their thoughts as they ponder which buttons they need to push to come through when the game is on the line.
“We did a lot of good things today, but we're doing just enough to lose games right now,” Melvin said. “We had another error that cost us. We had some big hits, we had some good plays, we had some good bullpen contributions. We were literally one pitch away today. We were just a little short. It's been that way for a bit here now.”
The Coliseum has been the site of so many walk-off thrillers over the past few years. But consider this stat – the A’s are 5-2 in games decided by seven runs or more, but 0-8 in those decided by two runs or fewer. They’re the only Major League team that is winless in that latter category.
In order to improve that stat, they’ll need all the bullpen pieces to start clicking at the same time. On Sunday, Cook hit 96 miles per hour on the stadium gun in his three-up, three-down seventh.
Evan Scribner notched a big strikeout of Marwin Gonzalez with runners on the corners in the eighth, then gave way to Clippard, who retired Jason Castro on a fly to right to end that threat and preserve a 6-5 lead.
But Clippard couldn’t nail down the four-out save. Afterward, catcher Stephen Vogt was still shaking his head that Houston’s Evan Gattis smacked his two-run go-ahead double into center on a pitch that was at eye level.
“I still wanna know how Evan Gattis hit that pitch,” Vogt said. “He needs to teach me how to do that. … You can elevate there and if he’s gonna chase, the worst thing in the world right there (usually) is he hits a medium fly ball, not a tomahawk double. That’s unbelievable.”
But on that double, A’s center fielder Sam Fuld took a step or two in, then lost his footing and got a late break back as the ball sailed over his head. Fuld, playing shallow in hopes of taking away the sacrifice fly, said he didn’t think he could have caught the ball even with a decent jump. Melvin said he was unsure. But if Fuld were able to make an excellent catch on that ball, it only amounts to a sacrifice fly to tie the score rather than put the Astros ahead.
Earlier that inning with no outs, Lawrie made a questionable decision to throw to second, trying to get the lead runner on Jose Altuve’s sharp grounder. Jake Marisnick was running on the pitch, and Lawrie’s throw was too late to get the force, putting Clippard in a tough spot with two runners aboard and no outs. A double steal put the go-ahead runs in scoring position.
“Your instincts tell you the ball's hit hard enough, and that's what his instincts told him to do,” Melvin said.
But such decisions are left open to question when the A’s are losing tight ballgames in the manner in which we’re seeing.
“It kind of reminds me a little bit of the way things went last year (during the second half),” Fuld said. “We’re just coming up short. You expect that to happen to a degree, but you also expect it to work in your favor too. It just doesn’t seem like we’re winning those close ones.”