OAKLAND – The only thing more painful than hitting rock bottom is thinking you’ve hit it, only to find out there’s still more room to sink.
Surely there’s been days where the A’s have walked away from a heartbreaking defeat thinking, “At least it can’t get any worse.”
Somehow, it does.
On Wednesday, they got a sterling outing from Jeff Samardzija and took a one-run lead into the ninth with their All-Star closer taking the mound. It all crumbled, in stunning fashion, as the Texas Rangers scored six runs in the ninth and hung a 6-1 defeat on the A’s.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Rangers stun A's with six runs in ninth]
“We've had a few low points here recently, but I don't know any more so than this,” manager Bob Melvin said afterward.
Closer Sean Doolittle, after facing six hitters and getting charged with five runs on three hits and two walks, sat staring in silence for a long period before rising and addressing the throng of reporters gathered around his locker in a silent clubhouse.
“For me, and maybe the team, it’s gonna be a turning point, one way or another,” Doolittle said. “After the season’s over, are we gonna look back and point to tonight and be like, ‘This is the game where the wheels came off for good’? Or are we gonna be able to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and talk about how resilient we are as a team and how we were able to overcome a game like this and still get it done?”
A very thoughtful take on the situation.
Only problem is, the A’s have already endured several of these gut-check moments where it’s put up-or-shut up time. Their offense simply can’t execute in basic run-scoring situations and create some breathing room. With no margin for error, the A’s inevitably find their way to defeat.
They’ve now suffered 26 one-run losses, their most in one year since they dropped 27 back in 1987.
They led 1-0 and had their chance to pad their lead in the eighth when they loaded the bases with no outs. But Jed Lowrie and pinch hitter Alberto Callaspo both popped up, and Geovany Soto flied out to right.
What happened next was somewhat shocking. Or was it? Doolittle, who came in having converted 21 of 24 save opportunities, gave up a one-out single to Elvis Andrus. Then Rougned Odor hit a game-tying double to the gap in left-center on a fastball that Doolittle didn’t think was a bad pitch.
But after an intentional walk to Adrian Beltre, Doolittle missed location on a 1-2 pitch to J.P. Arencibia, and the result was a three-run go-ahead homer. It took two more pitching changes before the top of the ninth, which lasted more than a half-hour, finally ended.
Offensively, the A’s went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
“You look at the numbers and you would say, ‘How could this happen for this long a period based on what we’d done though the first half?” Melvin said. “But again, we just have to keep working and hopefully something breaks loose and we do some good things.”
Samardzija threw eight shutout innings, the fifth time this season he’s fired a scoreless outing. He been rewarded with zero victories in those five efforts.
“You gotta take the positives, you’ve gotta look at where we’re at as a team,” Samardzija said. “If you take a step back and look at it as a whole, after 5 ½ months, we’re right where we need to be.”
Where are they? Tied for the A.L. wild card lead with the Kansas City Royals, two games ahead of Seattle for the two wild card berths. The A’s have lost nine games in the wild card standings since Aug. 10. It’s also worth noting that they lost the season series to the Royals (2-5), so if the A’s and Royals finish the season tied as wild card leaders, the Sept. 30 wild card game will take place in Kansas City.
That speculation could be pointless. Unless the A’s find a way to reverse the direction they’re going, there won’t be much reason to even discuss postseason hypotheticals.