For seven innings Tuesday night, Sonny Gray made all of the Oakland Athletics’ run scoring problems seem meaningless. And then he took a seat in the dugout, and all of the A’s chickens came home to roost.
Oakland went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, and for the majority of the game it looked as if the four runs they put on the board in the first inning would be plenty.
The A’s bullpen couldn’t finish the job, however, and the Seattle Mariners rallied for five runs in the eighth inning to earn a 7-4 victory in the second matchup of a three-game series between the AL West foes. The loss puts Oakland a full game behind Texas in the division standings after the Rangers’ 4-2 victory over the Astros Tuesday night.
Offensively it was smooth sailing at the start, and it looked like the A’s would run away with it early after employing some hot bats early on.
The A’s touched up Mariners starter Joe Saunders for four runs right out of the gate, and Jed Lowrie — batting in the leadoff spot for just the fourth time this season — started things off with a triple to right. Thanks to an RBI single by Derek Norris in the second at-bat of the game, the A’s had a 1-0 lead with no outs.
Next, Josh Donaldson came back from an 0-2 count and put an inside fastball over the wall in right field to make it 3-0 on his 18th home run of the season. It wouldn’t stop there, as Nate Freiman followed up a groundout by Yoenis Cespedes by going deep on a changeup from Saunders, who was visibly frustrated after giving up his second long ball of the inning and putting his team in a 4-0 hole before the end of the first inning.
Saunders walked Chris Young in the next at-bat, but made up for it by picking him off at first with Josh Reddick batting. A walk to Reddick extended the inning, and Alberto Callaspo singled to put men at the corners for Eric Sogard, but the No. 9 hitter lined out to left to end the inning after 40 pitches from Saunders.
A recurring problem reared its head again for Oakland from there on out in the sense that they could not drive in any more runs despite putting men on base consistently. The A’s would accumulate seven more hits off of Saunders through six innings with no runs to show for it, hitting into double plays in three consecutive innings to put an end to three scoring opportunities.
Gray picked up where he left off in his last start, an eight-inning shutout against the Astros that earned him his first career win. It was a shame that he didn’t earn his second Tuesday, as he certainly deserved to with the stellar effort he put forth on the mound.
The 23-year-old looked sharp from the onset, striking out three with only one hit allowed in the first two innings. Gray hit a bit of a rough patch in the third, giving up a leadoff walk to Michael Saunders before retiring the next two batters. But the rookie right-hander couldn’t get out of the inning unscathed, and the damage came when he left a changeup inside to Nick Franklin, who turned on it and put the ball in the left field bleachers to make it 4-2.
He wouldn’t allow a hit for the rest of his time on the mound, and he’d leave after the seventh having walked only two with seven strikeouts on 94 pitches.
Perhaps sensing the opportunity to break through against a new arm, Seattle immediately rallied in the eighth Oakland’s normally reliable bullpen, and once again the A’s would regret not taking advantage of previous opportunities to break the game open.
Michael Saunders led off the inning with a single, and it looked as if reliever Sean Doolittle had the first out of the inning when he got Henry Blanco to line a ball into the glove of Cespedes in left. The ball came out of his glove, however, which allowed both runners to advance into scoring position with no outs on what was officially ruled a double.
That was the break the Mariners were looking for, and they took full advantage of the mistake as Brad Miller lined a ball to center field in the next at-bat to score Saunders from third to make it a one-run game. Next, Franklin got his third RBI of the night with a single to left, and after such a strong start by Gray with an expectation that the bullpen would quickly work through the final two innings, the game was suddenly tied 4-4.
With Doolittle unable to retire a batter after 19 pitches, Bob Melvin brought in Ryan Cook to stop the bleeding, and the right-hander got ahead 0-2 against Kyle Seager before eventually issuing a walk to load the bases. The meltdown was in full effect at that point, and with Kendrys Morales at the plate, Cook threw a wild pitch that allowed Miller to cross the plate without a throw to challenge him, scoring the go-ahead run to make it 5-4. Next, Morales hit a grounder to Callaspo at second, who made the throw home to try to prevent another run, but Franklin slid in and beat the tag by Norris and give Seattle a tw0-run lead.
Norris and Franklin were both hurt on the play at the plate, and Stephen Vogt would come in to catch the rest of the game as Norris limped off to the locker room to get checked out by the training staff, and he apparently suffered a fracture of his big toe on his left foot on the play, which is bad news for a team that is already down one catcher with John Jaso continuing to recover from a concussion.
After walking Raul Ibanez, Cook finally got the first out of the inning by striking out Justin Smoak. The scoring wasn’t over, however, as another wild pitch with Michael Morse at the plate allowed Seager to score from third to make it 7-3.
Melvin then went to the bullpen for the second time in the inning, bringing in Jesse Chavez to try to succeed where his two teammates had utterly failed. The right-hander got Morse to pop out before intentionally walking Saunders to populate the open base at first, and he’d strike out Brendan Ryan to end the inning.
The A’s still had two more chances at the plate, and the bottom of the eighth got off to an encouraging start with Chris Young drawing a leadoff walk against Yoervis Medina. After a strikeout by Reddick and a groundout by Callaspo, Sogard drew another walk, but Lowrie grounded out to second to end the threat.
The sloppy play continued into the ninth for Oakland. Miller singled off of Chavez to start things off, and Humberto Quintero laid down a bunt that Stephen Vogt easily got to in front of the plate, but he went to second with no one covering the base, and the ball rolled into center field to put men on the corners with no outs.
Chavez struck out Seager and Morales before walking Ibanez to load the bases, and he got out of the jam by getting Smoak to fly out to right to end the threat.
That left the A’s one last chance to put three runs on the board against right-hander Danny Farquhar, but
Coming into the game, the A’s were 55-2 this year when leading after seven innings, and this loss will be a tough one to swallow considering how in control they looked heading into the final two innings. They’ll return to the Coliseum tomorrow in the rubber match against the Mariners, with A.J. Griffin facing off against Hisashi Iwakuma in a 12:35 PST start.