When you're scuffling along around .500 since the All-Star break, small things matter -- like clinching a winning home stand.
The 2013 Oakland Athletics could have done just that tonight, but instead, their bullpen threw like Little Leaguers on the way to blowing a two-run lead in the eighth inning in spectacular fashion -- and now the A's face a must-win game on Wednesday against one of the Seattle Mariners' best starters.
Tonight, Oakland starter Sonny Gray was relatively dominant against the Seattle lineup, throwing seven innings and giving up just two hits while striking out seven batters. The A's scored four runs in the first (making this loss their largest blown lead of the season, actually), but it wasn't enough because Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook were pretty ugly in relief, putting the first seven men on base in the top of the eighth inning.
Doolittle gave up four hits before being yanked without retiring anyone, and Cook wasn't any better: he walked two batters, threw two wild pitches and just made the situation worse before finally striking out Justin Smoak for the first out of the inning -- his only out recorded.
He was actually replaced in the middle of an at-bat, which is pretty unheard of unless a pitcher is injured. Jesse Chavez got the last two outs of the inning to keep the game within reach at 7-4.
The bullpen's disastrous showing overshadowed the A's offensive Jekyll & Hyde Show: Oakland scored four runs in the first inning to take a 4-0 lead on home runs by Josh Donaldson and Nate Freiman, but then they never could score again despite ripping ten hits and drawing three walks off Mariners starter Joe Saunders in just six innings.
The A's hit into three double plays, and Chris Young got picked off first base which directly cost Oakland a run when the next two batters reached base.
Overall, the A's left nine men on base in a game they never should have lost, including two in the eighth inning when they were down by three runs and needed to score. They went down 1-2-3 in the ninth on their way to batting just .111 with runners in scoring position tonight.
And just like that, Oakland blew a very winnable game during a pennant race where they can't afford to blow winnable games. Prior to today, the A's were 54-2 when leading after the seventh inning.
Now, the team is 71-54 on the season, with 37 games left on the schedule. They are 1.5 games behind the Texas Rangers in the American League West division, and they are four games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles for the final wild-card spot in the AL.
But what a waste this season has been against the mediocre Mariners (58-67), who now have nine wins in 15 games against the A's.
(Blame it on the full moon, perhaps, and forget about it.)
On a brighter note for Oakland, Monday's game highlighted Jarrod Parker's capabilities in a sign that is a very good one for the A's and the next four seasons beyond this one: his complete-game, no-walk effort yielded his ninth win of the year, as he hasn't lost now since May 22.
The young righty started the year 0-4 with an 8.10 ERA, and his record now stands at 9-6 with a 3.71 ERA -- including a 3-0 record this month with a 2.15 ERA, while Oakland has been struggling to keep its playoff chances alive against a tough schedule.
With the game tied at 1-1 in the ninth inning, Brandon Moss drilled a pitch to dead center for the walk-off victory, his 19th home run of the season.
The two teams play a third game in this series tomorrow. Game time is 12:35 p.m. Seattle sends Hisashi Iwakuma (11-6, 2.95) to the mound against Oakland's A.J. Griffin (10-8, 3.76).