Seventh-inning meltdown dooms sloppy A’s

The seventh-inning stretch is supposed to be carefree and fun. But after one questionable decision and three horrific Oakland defensive plays, it was as stressful as it was painful.

The Angels scored eight runs off the A’s in the top of the seventh Friday night, four on an Albert Pujols grand slam, the other four coming simply because the A’s season, even with the good days, has just been that way.

This story has been updated with post-game quotes and additional material from the A’s clubhouse.

The A’s entered the inning with a 7-2 lead, and the way starter Sonny Gray (L, 6 IP, 5 H, 2 K, 1.99 ERA) had been pitching, it figured to hold. As the inning ended, the A’s were fighting a 10-7 deficit, three relievers had been used, and the lead was never recovered.

The A’s lost 12-7, despite an dominant outing from Gray, outstanding offensive output, and early conviction at the plate, which has been one key to success for the team. Gray said:

“I was fighting myself all night, and unfortunately for the whole team, I just kind of let it get away from me there. And I put the bullpen in such a bad spot.”

The play that summed up Oakland’s night wasn’t even a scoring play.

Angels shortstop Erick Aybar stood at second base, Evan Scribner on the mound for Oakland and second baseman Jonny Giovatella at the plate. Scribner set, threw a fastball, and Aybar shot out towards third base, diving head first.

Aybar was caught stealing, officially, with Scribner getting the assist.

Except Aybar wasn’t out. He was safe, because third baseman Brett Lawrie bobbled the relay.

Giovatella would knock in Aybar shortly after, the final run of what is arguably the most painful inning of the A’s excruciating season.

Oakland is now going to have to battle a division rival who has all the momentum, and with an already uphill battle, they also won’t have much bullpen help through the series.

All relievers except for Tyler Clippard and Fernando Rodriguez were pulled into the game, and the whole staff have been bad-at-best in back to back outings this season.

Each of the five pitchers’ first batters faced all resulted in a baserunner: two walks, two hits, and one dropped fly ball in left field.

Ugly is an understatement for the A’s defense Friday, four errors in total and another managerial decision that won’t fall into a statistical category, but might need one.

Though Gray had surpassed 100 pitches, and had allowed two baserunners with a five run lead, A’s manager Bob Melvin kept him in the game.

Melvin had already visited the mound once that inning, and Gray signaled to the manager to stay in the dugout after the second runner was allowed to reach. If Melvin began to approach the mound, by rule, Gray would be removed from the game.

Melvin explained the decision:

“The sign of a good pitcher is being able to get it done, like he was doing, without feeling great. He got his pitch count under control, certainly in the sixth it didn’t look like he’d potentially go out for the seventh, but he got it under control and had a quick inning.”

He continued:

“Even when he’s not his best, we feel like he’s one pitch away from getting out of it with guys on base. To me, he’s as good as any pitcher in the American League. … It just got away from him a little bit.”

While it’s anyone’s guess what may have occurred with relief earlier in the game, Gray allowed a third baserunner, and then a grand slam by Pujols.

It turned into a one run ballgame, and so began the reliever carousel that hasn’t been friendly for the A’s this season.

Gray, though, accepted the fault and supported his bullpen:

“Can’t put anything on them, you come in with the bases loaded and no outs, in not a tight game, but those runners are important. And they got pressure pitches going on. I put them in a bad spot, I put the team in a bad spot.”

Notes

Stephen Vogt has reached base safely in all 31 of Oakland’s home games this year, and is just two games shy of tying Rickey Henderson‘s record of 33 such games, which Henderson set in 1993. … Oakland’s starting catcher is batting .337 at the Coliseum this year. … Billy Burns never hit a ball out of the infield, yet went 3-for-4 on the night, an outstanding achievement.

Melvin said of Burns:

“Yeah, he’s fast.”

Burns has been one of the more polarizing and most under-appreciated of the 2015 rookie class that includes several potential superstars (Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Byron Buxton, Kyle Schwarber). … Albert Pujols‘ go-ahead homer was the 205th such hit of his career, and is 44 more than any other player since 2001. It was also his 13th career grand slam, and his 20th home run of the season.


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