ANAHEIM — The A’s dangled in that odd state of limbo Sunday, trying to see the good of taking three of four on the road, but processing a defeat that never should have happened.
Their bullpen couldn’t hold a four-run cushion and the A’s had the rug pulled out from under them in a 7-6 defeat to the Los Angeles Angels that denied Oakland its first four-game sweep in nearly two calendar years.
Get six quality innings from Sonny Gray, a grand slam from Coco Crisp and another homer from Marcus Semien, and it should equate to a festive A’s clubhouse afterward. Instead, reliever John Axford addressed reporters in a quiet voice and summed up the collective feeling.
“We kind of just wasted a good effort by Sonny, a big day for Coco at the plate with that home run,” Axford said. “A lot of good things wasted, but tomorrow we’ll just turn it over and start fresh again.”
Axford was left in the game to try to gather himself during the Angels’ two-run game-tying rally in the eighth. The veteran reliever has struggled lately, with six runs, 10 hits and four walks allowed in his past six games, covering just 3 1/3 innings. But with Bob Melvin saying he had “a couple” relievers unavailable Sunday, the manager stuck with Axford, who gave up two runs on three hits in two-thirds of an inning as the Angels tied it 6-6 before winning it in the ninth on Jefry Marte’s walk-off sacrifice fly.
Melvin didn’t say which relievers weren’t available, but surely one of them was Ryan Dull, who’s been exceptional this season with men on base but had thrown each of the previous two days. Sean Doolittle, who pitched two of the past three days, most likely was the other, with closer Ryan Madson being saved in case the A’s re-claimed the lead.
“You go through points in the season where maybe you’re not at your best,” Melvin said of Axford. “The velocity is still good, I think he still has good movement. .. Probably just the command at this point is not what we saw earlier.”
Sonny Gray pitched well enough to win, giving up two runs over six innings, but he was denied his first victory since April 22, a span of 10 starts. He took the high road when asked if there was frustration building over his winless streak.
“All you can do is continue to put your team in a good chance to win,” Gray said. “That’s, in my opinion, what a starting pitcher’s job is. Sooner or later it’ll turn around.”
Still, the A’s (32-43) enter Monday’s start to the four-game Bay Bridge Series having won four of six. They have 30 games remaining until the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline. Who knows what moves will be made before then? Right fielder Josh Reddick and left-hander Rich Hill — both on the verge of returning from the disabled list — will be popular names in the trade rumor mill, as will third baseman Danny Valencia and perhaps others.
One thing the A’s can feel good about after taking three of four from the Angels, besides escaping the AL West cellar for the time being, is the revival their offense enjoyed. They scored 25 runs over the four-game series, collected 44 hits and homered seven times. That’s encouraging for a team that is tied for the second-fewest runs scored in the AL and has hit the fewest home runs in the league in June (21).
Crisp turned back the clock a couple years during the Angels series, impacting the game from the leadoff spot in a variety of ways. His fourth-inning slam off Hector Santiago was his first since July 5, 2007 when he was with Boston.
“It was just one of those rare moments where I was sitting on off-speed, and he threw it and I hit it,” Crisp said.
The A’s will need the overall quality of play they displayed in Anaheim to do any damage against the Giants, who have won 13 of 15 and sport the majors’ third-best record at 49-28.
“We’ve been on the same page,” Crisp said of the A’s recently. “It’s been kind of our downfall this year, when the pitchers pitch well we haven’t hit, and vice versa. Hopefully we can continue to be on the same page and get some more victories.”