Billed as a pitching duel between a veteran ace and a budding star, the Oakland Athletics instead were swept away in a 9-8 slugfest Wednesday afternoon.
In picking up his second no decision in as many starts, rookie Sean Manaea was once again dominant into the fifth. Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez uncustomarily scuffled, lasting just four frames and coughing up eight runs in being tagged with a no decision of his own.
The A’s bullpen, which has been solid in the early season, was unable to hold a four-run lead. John Axford (2-1, 1.29) was handed a loss on a two-run go-ahead homer from first baseman Dae-Ho Lee, his second of the game (3, 4). Reliever Mike Montgomery (1-0, 2.63 ERA) grabbed the win in relief behind two perfect innings for the M’s.
After tagging Hernandez (2-2, 2.21 ERA), who came in with a career 2.58 ERA against his A’s, manager Bob Melvin said:
“We finally get some hits — some good swings — and make him work, get some runs off of him, and we let him off the hook. It’s disappointing. The game, overall, (was) disappointing.”
Manaea (0-0, 7.20 ERA) featured a fastball-slider combination that perplexed the Mariners (16-11). Of the eight at-bats that were decided with the breaking ball, the “Throwin’ Samoan” picked up all six of his strikeouts, as well as a pair of weakly-hit grounders.
The lefty said he felt good with both the pitches:
“My fastball and my slider were really working. I felt like, from the last start to today, I was a lot better with my control and controlling my emotions … I should have done a better job of calming things down and taking my time… I’d say it’s part of the learning curve.”
His catcher Stephen Vogt was in complete agreement:
“Outside of about four pitches, there in his last inning, I thought he did outstanding … We should have gotten him deeper into that game.”
The second of the feebly-struck grounders was put in play by speedy Seattle lead-off man Nori Aoki, who legged out an infield single with two down in the fifth. It started a fire that would end up blazing for a total of five hits and four runs.
Second baseman Robinson Cano added yet another hit — his sixth of the series (he later added another for seven). The big swing, though, came on a mammoth home run from clean-up hitter Nelson Cruz (5) that found its way into the second deck in straight-away center field.
The upper-decker landed a projected 433 feet from the plate — but a good 35 feet above the field — according to STATS. There to catch it with his bare hands was Concord resident Galen Cooper, who said he had brought his glove but didn’t think it necessary to have it at the ready:
“I saw it was headed my way. I thought, ‘there’s no way it gets up this far’ — it’s a long way out here and the ball hasn’t been traveling well today.”
Cooper said his thoughts quickly changed to “don’t drop the ball” — which he did not. And that’s more than can be said about the Mariners defense, which commit two errors — by Hernandez and third baseman Kyle Seager — in the bottom of the inning.
Along with the errors, the A’s (13-16) slashed six hits in the inning, sending 11 batters to the plate and tallying six runs.
Manaea was given the hook after his offense gave him the lead. Despite a rough fifth, the 24-year-old was in line for his first win, leading 8-4. But a bullpen that has been incredibly stingy through the season’s first month allowed five runs.
Melvin felt like his team was in good shape, upon handing the ball to his bullpen:
“When you get a four-run lead like that, and we have our best guys available for the game, we feel like we’re going to win that every time.”
“We’ve been priding ourselves on the job we’ve been doing out there — stranding runners and keeping us in the ballgame. Today, we didn’t do that.”
The A’s will now take their first day off in more than two weeks. A break that is much-needed, according to Vogt:
“Obviously, we’re not happy with the way we’re playing at home. We know we need to get better … That being said, we got through a 16-game stretch without an off-day, with some tough travel. So an off-day will be good for us.”