OAKLAND – The day was unfolding the way so many have at the Coliseum in recent years.
The A’s received terrific starting pitching Saturday and came through with a couple of clutch late-inning hits that seemed to point the way to a familiar looking come-from-behind victory.
Instead, they were left pondering their mistakes in an 11-inning, 5-4 loss to the Seattle Mariners that became the first gut-wrencher of the 2015 season.
“There’s just so many things you could look back on this game that could’ve decided it one way or the other, probably for both teams,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “They just got one more big hit than we did.”
It stands as a potential swing game in this season-opening seven-game homestand. A victory would have clinched a winning record as the A’s prepare to head out on their first road trip of the season. It also would have sealed a series victory for Oakland regardless of what happens in the finale against Felix Hernandez.
If they knock off King Felix and win Sunday, it’s still a hugely successful weekend. But the A’s left themselves some work after a loss in which they battled back from two deficits but came up short.
“There were so many things that just felt like they didn’t go our way, and we still had a chance,” said starting pitcher Sonny Gray, who gave up one earned run in 7 1/3 innings.
The A’s scored twice in the seventh to take a 2-1 lead, but a replay reversal in the top of the eighth proved key. Reliever Eric O’Flaherty made an off-target throw to second that could have started an inning-ending double play. Originally, it was ruled an out at second, but the call was reversed when it was determined that shortstop Marcus Semien’s foot didn’t touch the bag for a force. That helped extend the inning and Nelson Cruz eventually hit a three-run homer with two outs off Dan Otero that put Seattle ahead 4-2.
Typically, “neighborhood plays” at second aren’t reviewed if the fielder’s foot is in the vicinity of the base. But umpire crew chief Brian Gorman told a pool reporter that when a throw to second pulls the infielder away from the base, the “neighborhood play” is not in effect.
Regardless, O’Flaherty took the blame afterward.
“That’s a bad throw,” he said. “That’s on me, 100 percent. We work on that all spring.” Melvin chose to pitch to Cruz, Seattle’s cleanup man, with runners on second and third with two outs and first base open. And he said afterward it was a tough call.
“Do we let Otero, who usually has good command, kind of pick around and try to make him hit his pitch?” Melvin asked rhetorically. “And if he doesn’t, then we go left on left (against Kyle Seager)? Or you walk him and have O’Flaherty have no room (with the bases loaded) with Seager? It was a tough call either way. Dan probably didn’t get the pitch where he wanted to.”
Otero said the plan obviously was to pitch Cruz carefully with a base open.
“I made two decent pitches to get to 1-1,” he said. “I tried to come in, which is what I like to do, and it just stayed right there. It didn’t really move in.”
With one swing, Cruz – a former Texas Ranger who played with Baltimore last season – showed what impact he can have on the division race in his return to the AL West.
The A’s had a prime opportunity in the bottom of the 10th to still pull out a victory. With one out, Ike Davis doubled to left-center and Ben Zobrist was thrown out trying to score from first. It was an aggressive move by third base coach Mike Gallego to wave Zobrist around. A fly ball could have scored him had he held at third, but Melvin backed Gallego’s decision.
“It took a perfect throw to get him, as close as it was, and we had some off-matchups coming up behind it,” Melvin said. “I don’t ever second-guess Gags.”
The sting of Saturday’s loss gets lessened if the A’s pull out a victory Sunday before embarking on a 10-game road trip.
“Hopefully tomorrow we can come out and get a win,” Gray said. “It’s gonna be a tough game, but I think we’re ready for it.”