It was a tale of two games for the A’s at Yankee Stadium on Sunday.
The first saw Sean Manaea throw five masterful scoreless innings in his first big league game in more than a year in front of a listless crowd as Oakland jumped out to a 4-0 lead.
The second was the last two innings.
It featured Oakland’s bullpen struggles again rearing its ugly head. There were balls, hits, walks and then back-to-back homers — the latter of which sent 42,860 into delirium as the A’s (78-58) blew a four-run lead in a 5-4 loss to the Yankees (90-48).
Manager Bob Melvin summed up the two-headed afternoon:
“Unfortunately, we ended up on the wrong end of it.”
The bullpen has been Oakland’s Achilles heel this season, and for the second straight day, allowed a walk-off home run to spoil an otherwise splendid performance.
This time around, it was Jake Diekman and Lou Trivino who loaded the bases with nobody out in the eighth. Three runs scored in the frame to trim the A’s lead to 4-3 entering the ninth, as closer Liam Hendricks — tasked with a five-out save — protected what was left of the advantage.
But he, too, suffered a letdown.
Hendriks (L, 4-2, 1.77 ERA) came back out for the ninth but failed to record an out, instead watching as Brett Gardner tie the game with a solo blast. Pinch-hitter Mike Ford followed with another to win it.
He’s done it before, but Melvin admitted he put Hendricks in a tough spot. A five-out save is not easy, but especially a challenge against the Yankees. Hendricks, too, said it was hard going back out to the mound after entering the game in a ninth-inning-type atmosphere an inning prior. But, he said:
“Still, no excuses.”
Hendricks just wasn’t crisp. He couldn’t locate well, he said:
“I threw a lot of balls, and when they were strikes they tended to be right down the middle, unfortunately. It was just one of those days when I didn’t have the best command and it came back to bite us.”
It bit them, big time. The A’s not only spoiled Manaea’s gem, but they also wasted a chance to gain ground on the American League Wild Card race. A win would have put them in a tie with the Rays for the first spot. The loss means they fall a half-game behind the Indians for the second spot.
In a playoff race, every game matters. This was one that got away.
It was unfortunate for Manaea, who pitched well in his first major league game since undergoing shoulder surgery last September. He said:
“It felt awesome. It’s been a long road back. It’s just crazy how much stuff has happened since last year.”
Manaea was dominant in five innings. He allowed just one hit and struck out five, throwing 82 pitches and facing the minimum through four innings.
He appeared to run out of gas in the fifth when he walked the bases loaded, but was bailed out by a diving stop and throw by Matt Olson off a line drive by the Yankees’ Mike Tauchmann to the right of first. Olson threw from the seat of his pants to Manaea, who just beat the diving Tauchmann to the bag.
Melvin said Manaea pitched well. Everything was working — fastball, changeup, slider:
“That was all we were looking to get from him. Boy, he’s got to feel good about it.”
The A’s, meanwhile, also managed just a hit against Yankees starter J.A. Happ, who struck out five.
Sheldon Neuse entered himself into the scorebook with his first big league hit, and it was a big one — at Yankee Stadium in front of 42,860 — that gave the A’s the lead in the seventh inning.
The teams were scoreless until the seventh inning, when Oakland put up three runs on former A’s reliever Ryan Dull. With the bases loaded and one out, Neuse hit a double just fair down the right field line, putting the A’s ahead 2-0. The next batter, Josh Phegley, bounced out weakly to the right side but Jurickson Profar alertly raced home on the play as Dull turned his back to the plate while running to cover first.
Matt Olson added a run in the eighth with his 28th home run of the season.
A four-run lead in the eighth is good enough on most occasions. But this year for the A’s, with a bullpen that has given up nine walk-offs this season, no lead appears to be safe.
The A’s are off on Monday before beginning a three-game series against the Angels at home. Mike Fiers (13-3, 3.40 ERA) will start for the A’s against the Angels’ Jamie Barria (4-7, 6.10 ERA).