The Oakland Athletics lost their first series of September Wednesday when Josh Hamilton drove in three late runs to hand the A’s a 5-4 extra innings loss, giving the Los Angeles Angels a 2-1 edge in the three-game series.
After a solid performance Tuesday night in which he struck out all three batters he faced to earn his first win of the season, Grant Balfour blew his third save in his last 10 games, and his recent struggles re-surfaced this afternoon and led to a loss in a game the A’s appeared to have all wrapped up after a stellar performance by starting pitcher A.J. Griffin.
Griffin was fantastic on a warm afternoon in the East Bay, and the only hit that the right-hander allowed was a two-run home run to Mike Trout in the first inning. After that, Griffin was lights out, striking out six and walking two in six innings to put his team in solid position to cut their magic number down to five.
Instead, that magic number is stuck at six until the results are in from tonight’s contest between the Rays and the Rangers.
After Mike Trout’s third home run of the series that gave the Angels an early 2-0 lead, the Angels wouldn’t get their next hit until Dan Otero gave up a benign one-out single to Andrew Romine in the top of the eighth. Then came the ninth, when Erik Aybar singled to left to start off the rally that would bring about the comeback victory for the Halos.
Balfour was able to get Trout to pop out to right for the first out, allowing the A’s to breath a temporary sigh of relief. But it was indeed temporary, as Hamilton fouled off the first pitch he saw before Balfour left him a fastball up, and when it drifted over the plate the slugger knew exactly what to do with it, connecting for his 21st home run of the year and sending it into the stands in right to tie the game, 4-4.
Balfour retired Mark Trumbo and Kole Calhoun to send it to the bottom of the ninth, but the A’s couldn’t replicate last night’s walk-off. Southpaw Buddy Boshers went three-up, three-down to send the game into extra innings. It was a disheartening development for Oakland, especially considering how good the pitching had been for most of the game.
Jesse Chavez worked the 10th inning and retired the side, and Josh Donaldson drew a leadoff walk in the bottom half of the inning to put the winning run on board against Juan Gutierrez.
The A’s couldn’t get the hit to bring him home, however, and the 11th saw the Angels put another run on the board when Hamilton hit a sacrifice fly to score J.B. Shuck from third. The left-fielder doubled to lead off the inning, and he was moved over on a bunt by Aybar that Donaldson couldn’t field cleanly along the third base line, allowing both runners to reach safely.
Chavez got Trout to to fly out to right field for the first out, and Jerry Blevins was brought in to face Hamilton after striking him out in a big spot the night before. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way Wednesday, and Hamilton was able to drive a curveball to the warning track in left to bring home the go-ahead run, and the 5-4 lead held up when Ernesto Frieri retired all three A’s hitters in the bottom of the 11th to end the game.
Early on, it looked like Oakland could be in for another battle after Trout started off the game with a home run for the second day in a row. This one was a shot to left-center that put the Angels ahead 2-0 after Shuck walked to lead off the game. It was the 35th homer that Griffin has allowed this season, which leads all of baseball.
The A’s took the lead in the bottom of the third with a pair of two-run homers by Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes to effectively take control of the game with Griffin dealing. Josh Reddick led off with a single to start off the charge, and after Daric Barton popped out to third, Crisp belted his 20th home run of the year over the wall in left field to tie the game.
Donaldson lined out to right in the next at-bat, but Jed Lowrie kept the inning alive with a grounder up the middle, and Cespedes got a hold of fastball and knocked it to dead center, putting the A’s ahead 4-2 with his 24th shot of the season.
The A’s had a chance to add to the lead in the fourth, but an iffy call prevented the opportunity from playing out. Alberto Callaspo led off with a single, and Barton drew a walk with one-out to set the table for Crisp. The center fielder hit a high fly ball to shallow right field, and when second basemen Grant Green dropped it, it appeared the A’s would have a bases loaded opportunity.
Instead, Crisp was called out on the infield fly rule, and Bob Melvin came out to argue as the ball wasn’t anywhere near the infield when it landed. The call was upheld, however, and even though the runners advanced they’d end up stranded as Donaldson popped out to end the inning, prompting the fans in attendance to express their feelings in the form of loud boos.
That would really be the last semblance of a rally the A’s would put together, and who knows how it all would’ve played out had they put another run or two on the board.
Griffin finished off his final inning with two strikeouts to finish off a dominating performance, the home run to Trout notwithstanding. Dan Otero picked up where his teammate left off by retiring the side in the top of the seventh, and Angels starter Jason Vargas also exited the game in the seventh, having given up seven hits with five strikeouts and two walks.
The next couple innings were relatively quiet, and then the ninth inning collapse happened. Between the struggles of Balfour and set-up man Ryan Cook, Melvin could be heading into October without a reliable closer in the bullpen, not something anyone would’ve expected after such consistent performances from those two key players over the past year and a half.
The loss is unlikely to have any major effect on Oakland’s playoff chances, but it certainly won’t sit well with a group that’s looking to stay rolling and wrap up the division as soon as possible. The players probably want to get back to action immediately to get the bad taste out of their mouths, and they’ll get their chance tomorrow when they host the Twins for a four-game matchup at the Coliseum. Dan Straily will be on the hill against right-hander Kevin Correia in the opener, which starts at 7:05 PST.