O.CO COLISEUM — The Oakland A’s entered Sunday with one job: to sweep the reigning world series champion Boston Red Sox.
What followed was one of the most impressive games of baseball endurance that Oakland has played all season — though Oakland would come up short.
Tommy Milone labored through five long innings, allowing five runs on eight hits, striking out three in the A’s 7-6 loss. It was so ugly early on that Boston catcher Mike Napoli was able to steal home.
Oakland took the first three games of the weekend set, making the four-game stretch a success, if not a triumph.
Milone thought he didn’t throw enough strikes early on:
“The main key was that balls were up, they were able to lift it in the air instead of putting it on the ground. … I feel like if I’m making good pitches, keeping the ball low, I can be successful against (Boston).”
During a two-run top of the first inning, seven Red Sox batter made it to the plate. Right fielder Brock Holt hit a leadoff single to right, and Dustin Pedroia hit another single, advancing Holt to second. Following a David Ortiz strikeout, Milone walked Napoli, loading the bases.
A’s manager Bob Melvin called Milone’s outing “a little spotty”:
“He had some baserunners and he wasn’t throwing quality strikes that he has here recently.”
Former Athletic Johnny Gomes singled to center field, scoring Holt and Pedroia, setting the tone for the rest of the game.
Oakland scored its first run in the fifth inning on a double from third baseman Alberto Callaspo which scored catcher Derek Norris. The A’s didn’t lose on pitching or hitting alone, with several defensive miscues throughout the game.
What appeared to be lackadaisical play from Callaspo on a Herrera grounder between short and third led to a Boston run in the third. A double steal — with Napoli swiping home plate — gave the Sox a 3-1 lead.
Shortstop Jonathan Herrera was nearly caught in a pickle after Milone went for the pickoff to first base. Failing to account for the runner — Napoli — at third, the ball was thrown home but Norris was unable to properly apply the tag.
The A’s rallied in the eighth inning, which they entered down 6-1. The first two batters, Stephen Vogt and Nick Punto, were easy outs. But then Lester hit outfielder Craig Gentry was beaned by Koji Uehara (W, 3-1, 1.30 ERA) in the calf and took the free base. He’d decided that wasn’t enough, apparently, stealing second and then third.
Jed Lowrie had also walked, allowing Yoenis Cespedes an at bat, which became an RBI single up the middle. With runners at first and second, third baseman Josh Donaldson singled to left, scoring Lowrie. Then Norris came in for another RBI single, sending Cespedes for a rest.
Just as it looked to be another miracle comeback inning, Coco Crisp stepped in for Brandon Moss as a pinch hitter and lined out to second base.
The rally didn’t end there.
During the bottom of the ninth, Vogt hit a 340-foot fly ball to right that cleared the fence and made it a one-run game. John Jaso pinch hit for second baseman Nick Punto, doing the improbable.
Jaso nearly duplicated Vogt’s homer, tying the score at 6-6. Melvin said:
“It’s as hard as we’ve fought all year, it looked like a game that we weren’t in for a little while. All of a sudden, against their best pitchers, it looked like we were in the game. It’s a testament to the fight that these guys have.”
But in the 10th inning, Big Papi was due. Otherwise known as David Ortiz, Papi hit a bomb off A’s reliever Fernando Abad (L, 2-3, 2.32 ERA) to the deepest part of center, giving the Red Sox the lead and ultimately, the win.
Late in the game, Norris was hit in the helmet with a wide backswing and taken out of the game. After his postgame shower, he left for the hospital to undergo a cat scan.
It looks life Norris will be taking a step back, literally, to create some more separation between him and the batter. It’s something that has been discussed in the clubhouse between manager and catcher, but Norris felt confident in his positioning before Sunday.
Norris is one of Oakland’s best hitters, definitely the best catcher on the roster, and the A’s can ill-afford another injury.
After Norris departed from the lineup, Stephen Vogt came in to catch and left Oakland with no position players to hit. Melvin had a dilemma on his mind and decided to send in closer Sean Doolittle to the plate.
Doolittle hadn’t taken a live at bat since 2010 and took a few swings in the cage. With no time for pointers from hitting coach Chili Davis, he was sent in with two outs in the 10th inning, his team down a run. Doolittle said:
“When Norris went down, everybody was worried for him. Once we saw him get up, we were trying to figure out what the moves were going to be. Shortly thereafter the phone rang.”
Doolittle thought he was going to be told to warm his arm, still in the pitcher’s mindset. Instead, the call was to hit in the three spot. He made contact, though it was a soft dribbler to second base and became the final out of the game.
Sunday’s game was Oakland’s fifth extra innings loss of the season, capping the homestand with seven wins and three losses. … John Jaso’s homer was his third pinch hit jack of his career with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. … Doolittle became the first A’s pitcher to pinch hit since the late Bob Welch in 1994. … Vogt has nine RBI’s over his last 11 games and boasts a .346 batting average on the season. … Oakland leaves Monday for an eight-game road trip, in which they face the New York Mets, Miami Marlins, and Detroit Tigers.