CHICAGO — Heading into a crucial four-game set with the White Sox, the Athletics and pitcher Sonny Gray were looking for a well-timed remedy.
Instead, they got the exact opposite.
Chicago catcher Tyler Flowers punished the A’s with two late home runs, one in the bottom of the ninth to tie and another to win in the bottom of the 12th to send Oakland to a painful 5-4 extra innings loss.
Gray, who had a miserable August after a brilliant July, started the game by walking Adam Eaton and Alexei Ramirez to open the bottom of the first.
After slugger Jose Abreu flew out, Gray got the ground ball he was looking for. First baseman Brandon Moss booted it, and the White Sox were on the board early. A sacrifice fly from Avisail Garcia followed a Gray wild pitch, and it was quickly 2-0.
Without a highlight reel catch by second baseman Eric Sogard, an already long inning could have been much worse.
The Athletics, just 2-8 in their last ten games, have struggled mightily at the plate lately. In the month of August, only three teams in the AL scored fewer runs than Oakland.
September hasn’t been much better, as the A’s were ninth in runs the AL heading into Monday night. White Sox starter Hector Noesi figured to present an ideal matchup for a floundering offense, but there were little signs of life to start the game.
Noesi came into the game with a pedestrian 4.70 ERA, but breezed through the first four innings. Adam Dunn’s second inning single and Jed Lowrie’s warning track flyout represented all the A’s bats could muster.
On the other side, Gray settled down after his frustrating first inning and allowed just one baserunner through the second and third.
The fourth was a different story, as the righty would load the bases with two singles and a hit batter. Once again, Gray got a big ground ball with one out though, and this time his defense turned the double play.
The big defensive play must have finally ignited the Athletics bats, as they busted through in a big way in the fifth inning. Catcher Derek Norris led off the frame with a single, then Josh Reddick and Jed Lowrie followed with back-to-back home runs to right field, quickly giving Oakland a 3-2 lead.
The lead, though, wouldn’t last long. Gray hung one to Conor Gillaspie in the bottom of the sixth, and the Sox third baseman tied the game at 3-3 with a laser shot to right field. The 24 year-old Gray pitched around a leadoff walk in the seventh, escaping unscathed yet again to finish his night.
Noesi retired Derek Norris in the seventh before getting pulled by Chicago manager Robin Ventura, ending his night at 94 pitches. The White Sox bullpen has had its share of struggles this season, and the A’s took advantage in the eighth.
Alberto Callaspo led off with a walk, and pinch runner Billy Burns came all the way around via back-to-back singles from Coco Crisp and Sam Fuld to take a 4-3 lead. The second was of the bunt variety by Fuld, and the Athletics had essentially manufactured the go-ahead run.
Oakland looked poised to add to that when Norris started the ninth with a triple, but Ronald Bellisario would force a key double play ball to keep the lead at one.
Unlike their opponent, the Oakland bullpen is one of the team’s strengths. Luke Gregerson quickly shut out the Chicago bats in the eighth, and current closer Eric O’Flaherty was one pitch from doing the same in the ninth.
That was until Flowers had his say, lining an O’Flaherty offering over the left field fence to send the game into extra innings.
Leaning on the bullpen again, Dan Otero pitched two scoreless innings with help from an excellent catch by Fuld in the tenth, Flohis second of the game.
But the A’s bats sputtered in extras, even against a weak White Sox relieving staff. And on this night, you could only go scoreless for so long when Tyler Flowers is in the lineup.
The Sox backstop hit another bomb to left, his second in three innings, off Jesse Chavez to cement a painful loss for the Athletics.
They’ll look to lefty Jon Lester tomorrow night, who faces fellow southpaw John Danks at 5:10 p.m. PDT from US Cellular Field.