Oakland A's: 5 Important Takeaways from Boston Red Sox Series
So close. So exciting. Even in defeat, the Oakland A’s know how to entertain their fans. And more importantly, they know how to keep their opponents from feeling comfortable and confident.
Though Oakland lost 7-6 on Sunday in 10 innings against the Boston Red Sox, the A’s managed to win three of four in the series.
And it was nearly a sweep, as Oakland clawed back from a 6-1 deficit to tie the game in the ninth, only to lose in the top of the 10th when Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz smacked a tie-breaking solo shot off A’s reliever Fernando Abad.
The fever didn’t die down until after closer Sean Doolittle pinch hit with two outs in the 10th—he grounded out to end the game.
Here are five key takeaways from the Oakland A’s series against the Boston Red Sox.
Brad Mills Is Worth It
After A’s lefty Drew Pomeranz was sidelined with a broken right hand after his fisticuffs with a chair, the Athletics were in dire need of a starting pitcher.
The team’s minor league starting-pitching depth is shallow, so Billy Beane did what he does best: He acquired some off-the-radar player for next to nothing.
Quite a stingy move even for the most parsimonious team in baseball.
Mills was quickly inserted into the starting rotation to fill the temporary vacancy—and he proved he was worth every penny.
He faced the Red Sox on Friday and tossed four innings, allowing three runs (two earned). Not a quality performance, per se, but indeed a tolerable outing considering he had not started a major league game since 2012 when he was with the Los Angeles Angels.
His command was off—four walks, one hit batter—but he kept the A’s in the ballgame nonetheless. Given that the A’s came back to win 4-3, there’s no doubt the team is happy with his effort given the whirlwind of events Mills had gone through during the week.
For Oakland, it was another display of the team’s desire to play for the win now.
The organization had several options to replace Pomeranz, including Dan Straily, who had formerly resided in the A’s big-league rotation earlier this season. Straily has pitched decently since he was demoted to Triple-A Sacramento back in mid-May.
The right-hander is 4-2 with a 4.38 ERA in eight starts with the River Cats. To ensure continuous clubhouse chemistry, the A’s easily could have turned to Straily and his familiarity with the rotation. But that would be the safe bet, and Oakland certainly never settles for safety first.
The A’s rolled the dice that Mills would not pitch poorly—at least not poorly enough so that the team could not win the ballgame. And that’s exactly what he did, limiting a tough Red Sox offense that could intimidate any pitcher, let alone one who had not pitched in the big leagues since 2012.
Just for that clutch pinch-pitching performance, Mills was worth those one hundred cents.
So Much Clutch
Speaking of clutch performances, the series was full of exciting last-gasp efforts—from both teams.
On Friday, the Red Sox battled back to a 3-3 tie heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. But, the A’s squeaked ahead on a Coco Crisp RBI single and held on for the 4-3 win.
On Saturday, it was deja vu all over again, as Crisp delivered a walk-off single in the 10th inning for a 2-1 Oakland victory. It was the fifth walk-off victory for the A’s this season.
Oakland tried for the trifecta on Sunday, storming back from a five-run deficit, scoring three in the eighth inning and two in the ninth to tie the game at 6-6. The A’s used solo home runs by Stephen Vogt and pinch-hitter John Jaso to pull even, setting the stage for another clutch-worthy opportunity.
However, Boston’s king of clutch, David Ortiz, had other plans. The mighty slugger walloped a solo blast of his own in the top of the 10th to stave off another Oakland whimsical walk-off win.
Per ESPN Stats & Info, it was Ortiz’ 16th go-ahead home run in the ninth inning or later since 2003—the second-most such total in all of baseball in that time frame. Talk about clutch-orific. Is there any more evidence needed to prove Ortiz is simply one of the most dangerous, dominating hitters of this generation?
What would have been cool, however, is if the A’s were able to get one baserunner on in the bottom of the 10th, as Crisp was in the on-deck circle with the team trailing by one. Pretty sure that the A’s center fielder is more clutch than Big Papi.
Sean Doolittle Does a Lot
If only Doolittle could have gotten on base somehow, Coco Crisp could have had an opportunity to come up with an opportunity to bat in the 10th inning on Sunday. Yes, Doolittle was hitting—not pitching— to save the game.
The A’s asked Doolittle, the former minor league first baseman, to pinch hit with the game on the line, as the team was out of position players. The lefty grounded out to second base to end the game—an impressive feat in itself, but not the magical moment everyone in attendance was expecting.
Given the Athletics’ penchant for the extraordinary, fans surely anticipated Doolittle driving a gapper to extend the inning. Or hitting a home run.
Hey, the A’s are that kind of team—anything can happen.
Surely, it was a memorable first major league at-bat for the A's closer, who picked up a save on Friday and pitched a scoreless inning on Saturday.
Silver lining: He saved his arm from pitching an inning for the third day in a row. And, at least he didn’t pull a hamstring or something else when he legged out the grounder.
Derek Norris Knocked Out
The reason Sean Doolittle pinch hit was because starting catcher Derek Norris was knocked out of the game after being struck in the head on a backswing.
For the umpteenth time this season, Norris had to leave the game after a batter’s follow-through—this time it was the swing of former Athletic Jonny Gomes. The A's were thus out of position players to extend the game, so Doolittle had to pitch in—or bat in.
While a lot of the attention was on Doolittle’s hitting, the important focus should be on the health and status of Norris, the right-handed masher of the three-headed catching platoon with left-handed hitters Stephen Vogt and John Jaso.
Norris has been banged up the past couple of weeks from backswings, as he was also taken out of a game against the Baltimore Orioles earlier this month. The A’s are already familiar with the seriousness of this type of situation, as Jaso was knocked out of the last two months of last season after multiple concussions.
The A’s will surely take all the precautions necessary to ensure that Norris is completely healthy before returning him to the lineup. However, given the repetitiveness of this issue, they should proceed even slower than normal.
Hopefully, Norris will be able to return back to normal. Or, maybe he will have to alter what normal is, because normal has been Norris getting bonked in the head.
That’s not a good normal.
The A's Need Some Rest
Normal for the A’s this season has been winning. Normal has been each player stepping in and morphing responsibilities like an amoeba. However, normal has also been poor health the green and gold.
Aside from season-ending injuries to A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker—not to mention the season-opening injury to Eric O’Flaherty, who had Tommy John surgery in May 2013—the Athletics have had high-profile disabled-list injuries to Ryan Cook (twice), Craig Gentry and Josh Reddick, as well.
This has caused the A’s to rely heavily on their roster flexibility and dexterity. It has allowed many players to play in a significant number of games, while appearing in potentially fewer innings.
However, the latent result of this multitasking is that more players are receiving harm’s-way playing time: The A’s now have more players who are on the mend or nursing nagging injuries. In addition to Derek Norris being clanked on the noggin, Coco Crisp is not at 100 percent and Kyle Blanks came out of Sunday’s game with a left calf strain.
That’s not even taking into consideration the workload that young pitchers Sonny Gray and Jesse Chavez are taking on in their first seasons as full-time starters.
The two days of rest will be useful for nursing the nicks and strains that the A’s have up and down the lineup.
Look for these coming days off to do worlds of good for the physical health of the players and for those who are currently in hitting slumps—like Jed Lowrie and Eric Sogard.
Though it will be nice for the players to receive some rest, A’s fans will be sad to watch only five games this week. It’ll be worth it in the long run.
Follow Nathaniel Jue on Twitter @nathanieljue