A’s bullpen can’t back Blackburn in loss to Mets

With the Athletics ahead 3-2 in the sixth inning and the Mets threatening, Oakland manager Bob Melvin pulled the plug on his young starter after just 76 pitches.

In hindsight, the move may have been a bit premature.

Melvin took Paul Blackburn out in the sixth inning with runners on first and second and one out.

The manager said after the game:

“At that point in time, with a couple of runners on, we needed to do something differently.”

But the two relievers who replaced him in the inning each allowed hits, and the lead evaporated.

Lucas Duda reached off Daniel Coulombe to load the bases, and in came Blake Treinen.

What ensued was Friday’s game-defining moment at Citi Field, along with a season-encapsulating moment for the A’s (43-53), who have been felled by errors all year.

T.J. Rivera singled to center off Treinen, plating two runs. A’s third baseman Matt Chapman tagged out Duda trying to go from first to third on the play, but made a wild throw to second as Rivera tried to take the extra base. The ball sailed into right field — where nobody was — allowing Rivera to come all the way around and score.

Said Melvin:

“[Chapman] was to get rid of it in a hurry and make a play, and then just miss it and nobody’s there at that point. … Everybody was actually trying to back up, and that one spot you don’t expect the ball to be.”

When the dust settled, the A’s found themselves trailing 5-3, costing Blackburn (L, 1-1, 2.88 ERA) two earned runs and a win as the Mets (44-50) eventually claimed 7-5 victory.

Blackburn pitched well, but had a short leash on Friday compared to his previous three starts, when he threw 96, 104 and 101 pitches, respectively. On Friday, he threw just 76 pitches in 5.1 innings, allowing four runs on six hits.

Melvin said the Mets got to Blackburn, but wouldn’t call it a bad outing for the youngster:

“It’s not like he pitched awful. He pitched out of a jam a couple of times with some traffic. Overall, he comes out of the game and we’re not in a horrible situation.”

But Blackburn could only watch as the bullpen gave up the lead, which only grew in the seventh when Michael Conforto smacked the second of his two 2-run homers (18) on the evening, putting the Mets ahead 7-3.

Oakland got two runs back in the eighth inning on RBI singles by Jed Lowrie and Marcus Semien. They then loaded the bases with one out, but former A’s reliever Jerry Blevins came in and retired Yonder Alonso and Khris Davis to end the threat.

The A’s started off quick, with each of their first three batters reaching on singles, and Ryon Healy knocked in Rajai Davis for the game’s first run.

Blackburn retired the first eight batters he faced, but allowed a two-out single to Mets’ pitcher Steven Matz in the third, which was quickly followed by a two-run blast to right field by Conforto to give New York a 2-1 lead.

That pitch — a first-pitch changeup to the Mets’ leadoff hitter — is what Blackburn thought factored most in the outcome. He said:

“The rest [of the hits] were singles. I feel like I got a lot of soft contact today. That one pitch and the fastball command was just not how I wanted it to be.”

The A’s re-gained the lead in the fifth with the benefit of replay review. Rajai was initially called out trying to steal second, but the play was overturned after Melvin challenged it. Semien promptly knocked in Rajai to tie the game.

Later in the inning, with runners at the corners and one out, Khris drove in Semien with a sacrifice fly to give the A’s a 3-2 advantage.

But it wasn’t enough offense for the A’s despite their top three hitters going 8-for-11, with Rajai and Semien — who tied a career high with four hits — setting the table. Said Rajai:

“We were able to get on base and set the table for those guys. Unfortunately we didn’t score enough runs to win, but we did our job.”

The middle of the order, however, did not. Khris and Chapman, the 4-5 hitters, went hitless. And Alonso, who replaced an injured Healy in the sixth, popped out with the bases loaded in the eighth.

Melvin said:

“When we had some guys on, our two best guys – our 3-4 hitters – felt like we were in a good spot. Couldn’t come up with anything there. Felt like that was the key.”

Notes

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle before the game, current Mets and former Athletics slugger Yoenis Cespedes said that he would “love to play the last year of his career” in Oakland. … Yonder Alonso, amidst trade rumors, did not start but replaced Healy in the sixth inning after Healy took a one-hopper to the head and went down. Healy had a visible bruise on the left side of his face after the game but didn’t think the injury would keep him from playing. … Oakland now owns a 2-9 record in interleague play, the worst mark in the majors. … This is the first time the A’s have faced the Mets since 2014.

Up next

The A’s and Mets will play Game 2 of the three-game set on Saturday at 4:10 p.m. PST, with Sean Manaea (8-5, 3.68 ERA) and Zack Wheeler (3-7, 4.98 ERA) facing off.