ARLINGTON, Texas — Ryan Madson was riding high on confidence in his fastball, and that confidence wound up costing him Monday night.
The A’s closer tried to blow a first-pitch heater by Adrian Beltre with two outs in the ninth inning, only to watch Beltre re-direct it for a two-run walk-off homer that sank Oakland 7-6 at Globe Life Park.
Madson knew Beltre was probably looking fastball on the first pitch. But he also felt his fastball had been excellent coming out of the All-Star break, generating strikeouts and weak contact.
“Maybe I was bull-headed and tried to beat him, instead of putting it in a good spot,” Madson said in a silent A’s clubhouse afterward. “I was beating guys with the heater I had the last whole week, so I was confident in it. It just happened to end up middle-middle, to a fastball-hitting guy, first pitch. That’s not where I was aiming.”
It was a costly mistake, the first time Beltre has stung Madson in an A’s uniform. But not the first time Beltre has stung the A’s. He’s now hit 35 career home runs against Oakland. The Angels (37) are the only opponent that he’s hit more against.
The four-time All-Star has made a habit of burning the A’s in the late innings. He hung with a decent breaking ball from John Axford in the seventh and lined it for an opposite-field solo shot. Then he hammered a 96 mile-per-hour fastball over the wall in left-center in the ninth, the 428th and 429th homers of a career that may land him in Cooperstown.
For the A’s, it was a jolting loss. Not only did it snap a three-game winning streak, it brought a couple issues into sharp focus. One, Madson is showing considerable vulnerability in the ninth. He’s now tied for the American League lead with six blown saves. And his ERA has risen each month — from 1.42 in April, to 3.72 in May, to 4.22 in June and 6.30 in July.
Oakland was coming off a 7-3 homestand. The A’s did so many things right Monday that should have equated to another victory — they scored every one of their runs with a two-out hit, they turned in a couple excellent plays in the infield, and they generally got stout relief work until the ninth-inning heartbreak.
A’s manager Bob Melvin had Madson and Sean Doolittle to choose from as closer until Doolittle went down with a shoulder injury. He’s still not throwing a baseball yet in his rehab. Axford still has some shaky moments. Should Ryan Dull get a shot at closing? He seems best suited to parachute in to messy situations that require an escape job with men on base. Madson, 35, has seemed like the best option overall, but it’s impossible to ignore that he himself is probably best suited to be a setup man at this stage of his career.
“He’s come up against some tough guys late in the game, and they’ve gotten the better of him a few times,” Melvin said.
Monday’s game also demonstrated that rookie Daniel Mengden is experiencing some serious growing pains. He hasn’t completed more than five innings in any of his past four starts, and he’s having problems with command and is getting hit harder. The right-hander made a splash in his first four big league starts. But he’s carrying a 9.00 ERA over his last five. Melvin said it looked like Mengden tired in the Texas heat late in Monday’s outing, and he lost some velocity on his fastball.
Jesse Hahn and/or Dillon Overton could force their way back into the rotation picture if Mengden continues to struggle, though a potential trade of Rich Hill could leave the A’s (45-55) still needing all of their young starters to contribute.
The final take-away, when all was said and done Monday, was Beltre delivering another dagger to the A’s.
“Adrian Beltre is amazing,” A’s utility man Danny Valencia said. “He’s one of the best players in the game. … He’s the one guy you probably would say, ‘Don’t let him beat you’, but he always finds a way.”