Defensive miscues and derailed baserunners were the death of the Athletics (40-38) four-game winning streak Friday night as early runs sank rookie Tanner Anderson‘s (L, 0-1, 2.95 ERA) third start of the season in Oakland’s 5-3 fall to Tampa Bay.
The Rays (44-32) played a successful strategy of small-ball at the A’s annual Bark at the Park Night at the Coliseum, but 16,126 fans and many of their four-legged friends looked on as the Athletics failed to match them.
Anderson seemed to be in the zone early, striking out four of the first seven Rays he went up against. But facing the bottom of the order in the third inning he lost some of his form and the defense behind him faltered.
Anderson walked Joey Wendle on four pitches to lead off the inning and the A’s were unable to turn two on a Guillermo Heredia grounder to Matt Chapman at third. With Heredia at first, Brandon Lowe walloped an 0-2 slider out to center for an RBI double, and advanced to third on a Ramón Laureano fielding error.
Anderson said strikeouts aren’t normally a major part of his game anyway, but that the speed and location of the hits the Rays got off him had the biggest impact. He said:
“My strengths is getting weak contact and getting the defense involved. They started to hit some balls and unfortunately they just weren’t hitting them soft and easy for the defense to make plays.”
Tampa Bay continued the assault in the fourth when Kevin Kiermaier led off by swatting a 3-2 pitch right back at Anderson with an exit velocity of 104-mph. The ball connected with Anderson’s glove hand and he was unable to recover quickly enough to make the throw to first. Anderson was examined by training staff but stayed in the game to give up a single to right field on the very next pitch to Willy Adames.
The righty said he was uninjured by the speeding ball. He said:
“I just need to learn how to close my glove properly. It hit me in the palm, so I got pretty lucky. The glove took a lot of it. Right now it’s a little sore, but you know, it could have been a lot worse.”
In each of the next two at-bats Wendle and Heredia beat out slow grounders to second, which was enough to advance Kiermaier home for the Rays’ third run.
Meanwhile, the A’s marooned seven runners and were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position Friday facing a battery of Tampa pitchers. They had more than a few chances to do offensive damage but more often than not they failed to capitalize.
Chapman made it into scoring position in the first inning after taking a one-out walk and advancing to third on a Khris Davis single. He was stranded.
After a leadoff Laureano homer in the fourth that put the A’s within one run, trailing 3-2, Jurickson Profar clearly whiffed on a 2-2 slider, but home plate umpire Mark Wegner ruled a foul ball giving the at-bat a new lease. Three pitches later Profar lined a single to left and Chad Pinder reached a batter later when he scorched a ball so hard at Adames that it was all the shortstop could do to halt the ball’s progression into centerfield. With two on and one out, Phegley grounded into a double play to end the inning. Freebie wasted.
Marcus Semien snapped an 18-game hitting streak, reaching base just once Friday on an error to open the fifth against Austin Pruitt (W, 1-0, 5.74 ERA) but even this went for naught. Chapman grounded into a double play to follow and when Olson made an ill-advised attempt to stretch a single into a double he was tagged out at second.
By the sixth inning Oakland was likely reaching a point somewhere in between frantic and frustrated when Khris Davis led off with a single to center field. One batter later Profar lined a double down the left field line and Davis and Athletics third base coach Matt Williams took a gamble and decided to send Davis home.
Skipper Bob Melvin said he was all for the decision to wave Davis in. Melvin said:
“We were trying to get some opportunities to score a run where in that game we weren’t really getting too many opportunities. So when he sent him I was all for it.”
Pham caught up with the ball, hit the cutoff man quickly and Adames relayed it to Travis d’Arnaud for the out at home with ease. The A’s requested a replay on the safe call and also challenged the call that d’Arnaud wasn’t blocking the plate in the course of making the play, but umpires in New York upheld the call on the field.
Oakland’s offense wasn’t entirely asleep on the job, though. In addition to Laureano’s fourth inning dinger, Olson answered the two-run third-inning Tampa Bay rally with a two-out monster solo jack off Jalen Beeks that left his bat at 109.3-mph and landed some 433 feet over the wall in center in the home half.
And back-to-back doubles from Chapman and Olson to open the eighth were good for another run, yet again putting the A’s within a run of the Rays. But with no outs and Olson on second, the Athletics failed to keep the rally alit. Rays relievers Chaz Roe and Oliver Drake tag-teamed to get Tampa Bay off the field without relinquishing the lead.
Patchy offense was not enough to overcome the Tampa’s mostly ground attack and Emilio Pagán (S, 4, 2-1, 1.23 ERA) relieved Drake in the ninth to strand the A’s final runner and seal victory for the Rays.
The Rays put seven different arms on the mound over the course of nine innings and Semien said he feels Athletics hitters may have been a little overwhelmed by the variety of pitching they faced Friday. He said:
“The Rays are tough they never give you the same look. You face a bunch of different guys, I faced four guys tonight. We just gotta do a better job of doing our homework on each guy and see what happens tomorrow.”
Mike Fiers (7-3, 4.28 ERA) will start for Oakland in the penultimate contest of the series with Tampa Bay Saturday. The Rays have yet to announce a starter for the 1:07 p.m. matinee at the Oakland Coliseum.