Oakland held another marathon, though this one didn’t end in a loss.
The A’s beat the rival Astros in an excruciating four-hour game that held 19 total runs, the A’s winning 10-9, and Sean Doolittle notching his first save of the year.
Reddick and Semien, though, still managed to reach base on balls. Even though Oakland won, a much more important event occurred.
Doolittle’s welcomed return as closer began with two pop outs to shallow center field, both into the glove of second baseman Brett Lawrie. His half inning of work took about as long as a single at bat in the previous eight innings.
And he closed the game with a three pitch strikeout to cleanup hitter Carlos Gomez. What a return.
Doolittle missed the first five months of the season, opening the year on the disabled list before returning for one outing and then hitting the 60-day disabled list.
The A’s would have been a much better team if a healthy Doolittle had been around like he was Monday, but that’s not how baseball goes.
The A’s needed something too, after allowing seven runs in the seventh and eighth innings. They nearly blew another one in the worst way possible.
The A’s did the bulk of their damage in the sixth and seventh, too, with eight runs coming in. And they needed all of them. A’s manager Bob Melvin said:
“Against that club, they create havoc on the bases, they steal bases, and they hit homers and they believe in pitching. That’s how they beat you. So no matter how many runs you score, you have to keep guys off bases, and you have to try and limit damage with guys on base. We weren’t able to do that in the later innings, but Doolittle came in and did what we’ve seen him do before.”
“If you’re drawing it up, those aren’t the guys you want to run a left hander out against in the last inning. Talked to him today, its the first time we’ve used him back to back. He felt good. Stuff was good again. It’s nice to have him back. We needed a one-run win.”
The A’s are now 16-31 in one run ballgames, and just one loss shy of their record set in 1976 for such outcomes. It’s the worst mark in the majors, and a large part of why the A’s record is so putrid.
It’s also the reason why Doolittle has been paramount to the A’s success, the same with former closer Grant Balfour. Oakland has been a ship on a collision course with icebergs, shore, and things you just cant make up for the better part of the year.
Their season, as far as winning a championship, has been over for some time. But they have their anchor back.
“It was awesome. The adrenaline was definitely flowing, it was weird. It was right up there with my debut and when I came off the disabled list as far as my energy level. This time I did a better job of harnessing that energy.”
It’s been nearly a year since Oakland’s closer recorded a save, his last coming September 19th of 2014. Doolittle knew it had been awhile, but was reminded just how long right after the game.
In a way, Doolittle said, it’s felt even longer than that. He wasn’t sure he’d even come back this season, and sources said earlier in the season that Oakland wasn’t going to take any chances with their all-star reliever.
If Doolittle showed even the slightest bit of an injury, the A’s would shut him down. The same thinking still holds, though it’s less likely now. He said:
“I’ve really felt like every outing I’ve had has been progressively better. I’ve felt progressively more comfortable, in a better rhythm, gaining confidence in my shoulder.”
Going through the teeth of Houston’s batting order was fun for Doolittle. Lot’s of fun.
Perhaps more importantly, going through the heart of the order for one of the best teams in baseball could go a long way into 2016. Doolittle had no real measuring stick as a closer, no confidence gaining scenario to sharpen his physical wit with.
The A’s have needed a guy they can rely on in the crunch, and have been without a functional bullpen for most of the season.
Doolittle recorded 22 saves in 2014, which is a low number considering that he was the most effective reliever in all of baseball last year. He struck out 89 hitters in 62-2/3 innings, and still managed to post a 0.73 WHIP.
Pitchers simply don’t do that. It doesn’t happen, so when it does, you’d better hope it lasts.
It hasn’t lasted for the A’s, though their chances at a postseason run in 2015 were cut down with the trade of third baseman Josh Donaldson.
Other players were moved, but none had the impact of Donaldson, who is now a prime MVP candidate for 2015.