With cannabis still illegal in Massachusetts — at least for a few more months — the Red Sox rolled into to Oakland to smoke the (Kelly) Green for 420.
Friday night got off to a promising start for the Athletics. Struggling starter Kendall Graveman got through a scoreless first before the Oakland bats jumped all over Boston starter Drew Pomeranz for three in the bottom half.
But things went up in smoke from there for the A’s (9-11) and Graveman (L, 0-4, 10.07 ERA), who surrendered a Jackie Bradley Jr. three-run homer in the second and would once leave unable to record an out in the sixth. For the red-hot Red Sox (17-2), a pair of homers and 5-1/3 innings of relief were enough to claim a 7-3 victory, their eighth in a row.
Graveman said, after his five-inning, seven-hit, four-run losing effort:
“Just trying to move forward and keep battling.”
The A’s entered Friday in the top five in every major offensive category: second in slugging percentage (.444), third in RBIs (99), third in hits (181), third in on-base percentage (.350), fourth in runs (104), and fourth in batting average (.270).
Under normal circumstances, that would make Oakland’s offense the more formidable. Except that Boston — first in each of those categories — was followed into town by the smoky smell of sizzling timber. The Red Sox haven’t scored fewer than three runs since April 5, and haven’t lost since April 11.
Graveman, amid his worst stretch as a big leaguer, modified his windup to keep his hands more still at the belt, rather than gathering above the head before starting home. It appeared to work — when he was in the windup.
Manager Bob Melvin said:
“Just trying to streamline, stay on line with his mechanics. Not going over his head, just kinda simplify a little bit. … When you struggle, you’ve got to make some adjustments. And today he made some adjustments.”
Graveman said he had toyed with the modified delivery prior to his last start, and, after not messing with it at all in bullpen sessions between start, had it set in his mind that he would be using his quieter motion Friday:
“I just thought it felt good and helped me stay in line, in rhythm. I thought the stuff located in the bottom of the zone because of it.”
When all was said and done, the Red Sox finished their evening 3-for-17 (.176) facing the Oakland starter out of his new windup, and 4-for-4 when he was in the stretch. Graveman also struck out six while not allowing a walk.
After retiring Mookie Betts to start the game — a tough task against a guy who had collected seven hits including four homers in his previous three games — Graveman got through a scoreless first with the help of Hanley Ramírez, who was caught stealing to end the frame.
Graveman retired 11 straight out of the windup from the second inning through the fifth. But his groove was bookended by a pair of Boston rallies that would be his undoing.
After a Rafel Devers one-out single in the second, Graveman served up back-to-back knocks out of the stretch, the second of which a 436-foot three-run blast (2) by Bradley. The bad news for the Oakland starter was that his lead had evaporated in one gargantuan swing. Said Graveman:
“That was, to me, the only pitch I wish I had back in the game. That one pitch really hurt me, the rest of the hits were on the ground, soft contact. I thought, that’s the best I’ve located the baseball.”
The good news, the bases were cleared.
Graveman didn’t allow another batter to reach until Betts snuck a roller through the left side of the infield for a single leading off the sixth. He never got an out in the sixth, surrendering back-to-back singles to load the bases. He has yet to record an out in the sixth in five starts — not what the A’s and Melvin were expecting when they named him their Opening Day starter.
Home runs is one stat in which the Red Sox do not lead all of baseball, though their long balls have come at the right time. After not hitting a single grand slam all of 2017, Moreland’s in the sixth was Boston’s fifth in their last 12 games.
Pagán, who now leads all American League relievers in home runs allowed (4), said:
“That was a terrible pitch. Obviously, if you make that kind of pitch in that situation that’s one that they’re going to jump on. It’s a shame because I thought Kendall threw a good game and if I did my job then his box score looks a lot better and we probably come out on top.”
With their 10 hits, the Oakland offense did precious little, stymied by a Boston contingent of four relievers including Hector Velázquez (W, 3-0, 2.70 ERA) who hurled three scoreless. Perhaps that had to do with the fact that four of those hits came out of one spot in the lineup, the spot manned by MLB hits leader Jed Lowrie, who matched a career-best four hits in a 4-for-5 performance with a pair of doubles but flew out to medium-deep center in the ninth.
The skipper called Lowrie’s sizzling start “pretty impressive”:
“I’m kinda running out of superlatives to walk about him. Everybody was pulling for him to get the fifth hit. Just a consistent routine and taking good swings, putting together good at-bats every time up every day.”
The A’s hand the ball to Sean Manaea (2-2, 1.63 ERA, 0.723 WHIP), whose 13.50 ERA in three career starts against the Red Sox includes a two-run five-inning start in Oakland, for Saturday night’s Game 2. He faces Chris Sale (1-0, 1.23 ERA, 0.955 WHIP), to whom he was compared while pitching in college at Indiana State University.
Chris Bassitt (1-0, 0.69 ERA, 1.000 WHIP) was recalled from Triple-A Nashville prior to the game. Bassitt has not pitched in the major Leagues on April 28, 2016 and spent much of both the 2016 and 2017 seasons rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. … Reliever Josh Lucas (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.857 WHIP) was also recalled, replacing Danny Coulombe (0-1, 5.79 ERA, 1.500 WHIP) who was optioned to Nashville. He made his first appearance as an Athletic, working three scoreless with two hits and one walk allowed. He did not record a strikeout. … Manage Bob Melvin said prior to Friday’s game that he expects veteran reliever Yusmeiro Petit (0-0, 3.00 ERA, 1.083 WHIP) to return from the family emergency list in time for Saturday’s game. … With his sixth-inning grand slam, Mitch Moreland has homered in four straight games at the Oakland Coliseum. Of his 46 career home runs, Moreland has hit 15 in Oakland.