Rays crack Casilla to spoil Chris Smith start

Oakland Athletics starter Chris Smith hasn’t won a big league game since June 24, 2008.

After getting a line-out to end the seventh, the 36-year-old was unable to hold back a massive grin. He strode off the field, hat askew, into the the adoration of a 15,000-piece Monday crowd beaming with pride and handing his bullpen a one-run lead with six outs to get. He said:

“It’s an awesome feeling — especially because I know I’m not supposed to be here, doing this, it’s like ‘whew, what’s going on here?’ This whole thing is an unbelievable ride and I don’t want it to end, I just want to keep on doing what they ask me to do.”

His valiant effort wasn’t enough, though, and his search for the elusive win column continues.

In his support, or lack thereof, the Oakland offense was once again silenced by the Tampa Bay Rays (51-44), held to four hits one day after mustering just two. And for the fifth time in 20 opportunities, closer Santiago Casilla couldn’t hold the line, blowing the save as the A’s (42-52) fell 4-3.

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

Casilla (L, 2-4, 4.15 ERA) was one out from sealing Smith’s win, with no one on, but three singles and a walk swiped the win from under the whirling A’s and their journeyman starter. It would have been easy for Smith to take it hard but, as manager Bob Melvin said, he is the consummate teammate without concern for his personal prize.

Smith (ND, 0-0, 2.77 ERA) said his only concern had to do with making sure his teammates realized he has won a single game, albeit when many of those teammates were adolescents:

“I was just hoping that they would understand that I’ve got a win, and I didn’t get a shower full of ketchup and mustard. I was like, ‘hey guys, I got one but it was along time ago, like back in the first Bush administration.”

Somehow,the joy of living his childhood dream out-shined the bitterness of his going unrewarded for a overwhelming effort.

Smith’s target for the start was 6 innings and three runs allowed — what is recorded in modern baseball as a quality start. he did one better, surrendering two runs on three hits in 7 innings. That fact was far from lost on the wily vet when he paced off the mound after working through a perfect seventh. The emotions were emitting, as he couldn’t help but think about his 22 friends and family members in attendance.

He navigated through the tough Tampa lineup, despite less-than-electric stuff, befuddling the Rays with a mid-80’s fastball. Said Melvin:

“He just keeps you off balance. He’s not going to throw 95, but he’s on the corners; reads swings well; isn’t afraid to throw a changeup in any count; just a good enough breaking ball to keep kinda in between. To give us seven innings, that was great.”

The Rays likely don’t have an answer for what made him so difficult to hit. Perhaps he was below the “hitting speed,” perhaps it was a case of mystery. But Smith had an answer for his success:

“What was working for me was (third baseman Matt) Chapman, and the defense. I was telling (pitchers Paul) Blackburn and (Daniel) Gossett in the dugout that we were spoiled in Nashville, because every ball hit to third baseman we don’t even pay attention or worry about it anymore. It just continues up here, unbelievable.”

Chapman made several stellar defensive plays, but his first error as a major leaguer came in the second Tuesday night led to the first run allowed by Smith — an unearned run. Handcuffed by a high hop, the franchise’s highest-rated defender had a chopper from Wilson Ramos carom off his midsection and into left putting runners on first and third with no outs.

Smith wiggled out, surrendering a lone run.

Leadoff man Steven Souza Jr. got the Rays back on the board on Smith’s first pitch of the third, hammering an 86-mph fastball in the seats in left for a solo home run (20).

Tampa starter Blake Snell was working with completely different tools, using a mid-90’s fastball and wicked splitter to pile strikeouts early. Recording three strikeouts in the first, however, didn’t help him survive the Davis’.

Rajai opened the Oakland first scooting a 2-2 splitter through the right side for a seeing-eye single. After back-to-back strikeouts, Khris clobbered a first-pitch splitter high off the batter’s eye for a two-run home run (27) giving Smith the early lead.

Snell (ND, 0-5, 4.98 ERA) ended up striking out six of the first nine he faced, but that is when the whiffs dried up. The effective wildness became just wildness.

Consecutive walks leading off the fourth led to Oakland’s third run, which scored on a wild pitch with two outs.

Smith took the 3-2 lead and ran with with it. When he did have to pass the baton, he handed it to Melvin’s new bullpen arm Blake Treinen, who contributed a perfect eighth. And things looked secure to begin the ninth.

Chapman continued to make up for his earlier mistake, diving to make a stop behind the third base bag then quickly rising to his feet and firing to first to rob Evan Longoria of a leadoff double in the ninth. Of the play of his rookie third baseman, the skipper said:

“The ball Longoria hits is a double in the corner with just about anybody else. He’s swinging a lot better, he’s obviously playing great defense — every and then you’re going to make an error, but he’s been impactful with the glove.”

Even with the assist Casilla couldn’t close out the win as he was lifted after allowing four-straight Rays to reach with two down in the ninth. And, for Smith, the hunt for a “W” surges on. Chapman, who called his starter someone who is “easy to root for,” said the loss was especially tough:

“For him and the team. We were fighting all game and had a chance to close out there in the ninth. Unfortunately, we didn’t, but that’s the way baseball goes and I think we can take some stuff away from that game.”

On deck

Sonny Gray (5-4, 3.72 ERA) gets Wednesday afternoon’s starting assignment to end the first homestand of the second half. Boasting a 3-1 record and 1.33 ERA over his last four starts, Gray looks to hand career loss No. 1 to Rays rookie hurler Jacob Faria (4-0, 2.00 ERA) and claim a winning homestand for the A’s.

Notes

All-Star Yonder Alonso was named this season’s Heart and Hustle Award recipient for the Oakland Athletics. The award is voted on by the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association and given to the one player on each team who best represents the “passion for the game of baseball, and best embodies the values, spirit and tradition of the game.” … Reliever Ryan Dull (right knee) made a one-inning relief appearance for Triple-A Nashville, and is on schedule to be activated from the disabled list during the A’s coming road trip, according to manager Bob Melvin. … Outfielder Jake Smolinski (right shoulder) participated in throwing drills before Tuesday’s game. Melvin said his positive physical response to the work is encouraging, calling September a “fairly good timetable” for Smolinski’s return to the field.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.