SEATTLE – Sending your pitcher up to hit for himself in an American League game is hardly an ideal scenario.
That was the situation that played out for the A’s in an odd turn of events Friday night that we’ll get into below.
But situations don’t get more ideal than what Oakland had in the top of the ninth, trailing the Mariners by two runs. Brandon Moss and Sam Fuld opened the inning with singles, bringing up the top of the order with no outs and two runners on against Fernando Rodney.
What proceeded to unfold was all that there is to know about the A’s right now. Coco Crisp popped up weakly in foul territory. Josh Reddick went down on a check-swing third strike, and leading RBI man Josh Donaldson chased strike three, and a 4-2 A’s loss was in the books.
Even when things are flowing in the A’s favor, as they were in the ninth, it still feels like this team is swimming against the current right now.
“We had a couple base runners in the ninth, we had a chance,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “I had my best hitter up there in Coco, our 2-3 hitters coming up behind him. We just couldn’t do anything.”
Thus, the A’s cling to a half-game lead over Seattle and Kansas City in the wild card race. Dropping the opener of this three-game series is not a knockout blow in and of itself, because if the A’s win the next two at Safeco Field, they take the series and suddenly feel good about themselves.
But with Felix Hernandez taking the hill for Seattle on Saturday, it sure would have been nice for the A’s to bank a win Friday. They were tied 2-2 after four innings and on the verge of knocking tough Mariners lefty James Paxton from the game. But they let him off the ropes, and they finished 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position.
Now, they’ll need to topple King Felix – he’s 6-1 with a 1.85 ERA against them in his past eight starts -- just to have a chance to take the series Sunday.
A’s starter Jason Hammel summed up Friday night with three simple words:
“A weird night.”
After catcher Geovany Soto left the game with back spasms – he’s day to day – Melvin elected to shift Derek Norris from designated hitter to catcher rather than throw inexperienced Bryan Anderson behind the plate. That meant Hammel wound up hitting for himself in the fourth.
He put down what would have been a very nice sacrifice bunt, but it went for an error and Hammel found himself running the bases. He executed a not-so-graceful slide into second on Nick Punto’s fielder’s choice grounder.
“I haven’t had a raspberry since like high school,” Hammel said.
He kept his humor, and A’s players are trying to push the right buttons as they continue a 9-22 tailspin since Aug. 10.
Before Friday’s game, relievers Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle and Jesse Chavez wandered into an Urban Outfitters store and walked out with a giant bear costume. Cook wore it around the team hotel Friday afternoon and the costume was displayed prominently in the clubhouse.
It was an attempt to bring some light-heartedness into an increasingly tense situation, but also to drive home a message.
Or, as Cook put it: “Get everybody pulling on the same rope.”
The team concept is great, but the A’s could also benefit from a couple of individual players stepping up and delivering in a clutch situation, when a game hangs in the balance.
Right now it’s anyone’s guess as to who in an A’s uniform might rise to the challenge.