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A’s execute ‘opener,’ get buried as Yanks surge late

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Three Oakland hurlers combined to face the minimum through six innings, but all that work evaporated when Jeurys Familia couldn’t find the strike zone in the seventh.

“Opener” take two went significantly better for the Athletics as Liam Hendriks and Daniel Mengden didn’t allow a hit until the sixth. J.A. Happ matched them, though, and after Familia gave the Yankees a run via bases-loaded walk in the seventh the normally leak-proof Oakland bullpen couldn’t slow the drip as the Yankees (87-52) swiped a 5-1 victory.

After gaining a game on New York in the AL Wild Card race Monday, the A’s (83-57) gave it right back Tuesday and are back to being 4-1/2 games behind the No. 1 spot.

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

For the second time in four days, manager Bob Melvin and the A’s tasked Hendriks with the first inning, for the second time he posted a zero. The difference this time was that Melvin took a perfect first from his previously DFA’d reliever as a night well-worked and brought Mengden in to start the second.

There was no “let’s see if we can squeeze one or two more outs out of him” this time around. Melvin said this is what the A’s had in mind when they made the decision to start Hendriks:

“When it works like that, sure. I think it was a little easier for Daniel tonight because he knew exactly when he was coming in. We’re trying to straighten that out a little bit.”

Mengden was also a different pitcher from the one that struggled three nights earlier, when he served up five hits and four runs in two short innings. Making the second relief appearance in his big league career — both coming in the span of five days — Mengden said all the right things after the game: taking responsibility for the results despite the difficulties presented by the quirky, perhaps gimmicky, approach.

On three days of rest, Mengden fired 4-2/3 innings, allowing just one hit and striking out three. He also pitched around a pair of errors earning double plays immediately following each.

The starter turned reliever said that Tuesday would have been his normal day to pitch in the bullpen, something he didn’t do relying on his in-game performance to get his workout in. As for the more ironed out schedule, he said:

“Gameplan’s a little better this time around, we had a plan going in. … I had a more concrete plan, a little easier to go with.”

The error bug is something that has bitten Oakland hard of late. A team that has ridden solid pitching and stellar defense into the thick of the playoff race in September, the A’s have now committed seven errors in their last seven games.

Mengden erased the Matt Chapman and Marcus Semien errors, in the fifth and sixth respectively. Semien’s fielding error can be chalked up as a positioning kerfuffle, with the shortstop bobbling a grounder in shallow right field. Chapman’s error came immediately following a play in which he charged an Aaron Hicks bunt attempt to rob the Yankee center fielder of a hit, and was the product of a throw that sailed well over Matt Olson at first.

Melvin said that there is a toll taken when everyday players are playing their 19th game in 19 days, like Tuesday’s was for the A’s:

“Any time you have 20 in a row and guys are playing every day there’s a certain grind. … We did make a couple but the guys have been working pretty hard. I think, sometimes they go in spurts where you make a few errors but we still feel pretty good about our defense.”

As for Chapman in particular, the skipper said:

“As deep as he plays, you’re going to throw one away every now and then but defensively I have no problems with him any night.”

Mengden was finally relieved with two outs in the sixth after Gleyber Torres rolled the Yankees first hit of the game past a diving Semien and into left field. Ryan Buchter, brought in to face the lefty Brett Gardner, instead recorded the A’s 18th out of the night without needing to officially face the 19th batter instead picking off Torres for the third out of the inning.

As difficult as it was for the Yankees offense to keep up with the Oakland pitching approach, the A’s had no more success against New York’s straight-forward attack and Happ.

Happ, acquired by the Yankees in late July, matched the combined brilliance of Hendriks and Mengden, posting six innings and five strikeouts. Like the A’s duo, the New York lefty erased what little base patch action with which he was faced getting double plays from the batters following a third-inning walk and fifth-inning hit batsman.

The difference through six was the red-hot Stephen Piscotty who matched a career high with his 22nd homer of the season with a solo shot in sent caroming off the top of the center field wall and over in the second — he has now homered seven times and driven in 16 runs in his last 16 games.

Oakland got through the questions, riding a pitching approach that had failed them so miserably four days earlier. But what has been an exclamation point for them much of the season crumbled.

Entering Tuesday’s game, A’s pitchers had combined for a 3.15 ERA in the seventh inning or later this season, good enough for third-lowest in the major leagues and second only to the Yankees in the American League. But Familia, replacing Buchter following a Gardner single, surrendered a broken-bat seeing-eye single to Giancarlo Stanton before walking back-to-back hitters including Hicks to force in a run.

After Familia and Fernando Rodney (L, 4-3, 2.86 ERA) teamed up to hold the line, the latter served up a Luke Voit solo homer (8) in the eighth and Hicks RBI single in the eighth.

Melvin said he stuck with Familia because he was the best chance to get his club out of the jam, even with his command issues, and he did play a huge role in limiting the damage, striking out back-to-back Yankees before handing the ball to Rodney:

“We’ve seen him lose command at times but then find it. … He had two big strikeouts when we needed them to keep it tied, and then Rodney comes in and gets the big out there. But it’s more, we just didn’t do enough offensively tonight, no matter what we give up when you get two hits it’s gonna be a tough time winning.”

New York added two in the ninth to the record of Emilio Pagán, and the A’s offense, which collected just two hits — the second by Chapman — mounted no challenge going quietly after a solid start. David Robertson (W, 8-3, 2.85 ERA) was credited with the win after striking out three in a scoreless seventh.

Said Olson:

“It’s baseball, though. We’re not going to have it there for 162, if that was the case then there’d be teams with 130 wins right now. Stuff happens, sometimes it’s not your night. That was one of those. Just come back tomorrow.”

On Deck

The A’s look to take a the series from New York, who arrived in Oakland with a 4-1/2 game lead for the top Wild Card spot in the American League, and send them away up 3-1/2 games Wednesday night. Mike Fiers (10-6, 3.38 ERA) is scheduled to get the nod in the series finale against New York ace Luis Severino (17-6, 3.32 ERA).

Notes

The A’s original planned for Frankie Montas to be the starter used in Tuesday’s game — be it as the first or second arm — but Montas, along with Chris Bassitt, Ryan Dull and Nick Martini were not available to be recalled. Per the new CBA, put in place prior to the 2017 season, players optioned to the minor leagues must spend 10 days in the minors before being recalled, even at the end of the minor league season. In seasons past, player could be recalled once the minor league season concluded. … Lefty reliever Dean Kiekhefer made his A’s debut Tuesday facing one batter in the ninth and allowing an infield single. It was Kiekhefer’s first big league appearance since Oct. 2, 2016 with the Cardinals. … Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, brought in as a defensive replacement in the eighth, hit his fifth homer of the season in the ninth off Emilio Pagán. Pagán has now allowed 11 home runs in 55 innings this season — 1.8 per nine innings.


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.

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