Following a storyline that seemed all too familiar, another bullpen meltdown forced the Oakland Athletics to wear a yet another one-run loss Tuesday night.
Stellar work from Kendall Graveman, thunderous power from Marcus Semien and lightning speed from Billy Burns helped the A’s (4-5) hand their confident bullpen the lead. But stumbles from Ryan Madson and closer Sean Doolittle served up opportunity to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (4-4) offense for a 5-4 loss.
Doolittle wore the anguish on his face after the game of setting up a game-deciding homer for a second time this season:
“We take a lot of pride in what we do, and we were handed a lead late in the game. I couldn’t get the job done… That’s twice already. I’ve got to be better.”
For seven innings the game displayed the exact formula manager Bob Melvin could have hoped for. Graveman (0-1, 2.38 ERA) went six innings. With the help of a pair of Semien bombs (3), as well as two stolen bases by Burns (3) leading to two more runs scored for the leadoff man (3), the starter handed his bullpen a three-run lead.
Given the way his relievers pitched through the first eight game, Melvin was comfortable with the position:
“(Graveman) pitched well. A little spotty to begin with, but he made pitches when he had to. He got his pitch count a little up in the middle innings, but he ended up giving us six innings, and you turn it over to our three best guys. I feel good about that.”
Before Doolittle (1-2, 5.79 ERA) came in for the ninth, set-up man Madson (0-0, 3.60 ERA) allowed the Angels to trim the lead in the eighth. With one out and Anaheim third baseman Yunel Escobar on first, Madson coaxed a grounder ticketed for the shortstop position.
Employing a shift, Semien had vacated his normal position, yielding a single. And after striking out Monday’s hero Mike Trout, the Oakland reliever missed change-up location by the slightest bit and Albert Pujols sent a two-run double in to left field.
Madson, who was trying to go down, had his change-up “pop out of his hand” and flutter just above his intended spot. After the game he said:
“I knew it was a safe pitch, if I had got it in there.”
Doolittle gave up a long fly ball to Andrelton Simmons to lead off the game’s final frame, but the Angels’ shortstop came up just short of a game-tying homer. After a walk to C.J. Cron, though, Soto found the distance that Simmons couldn’t, sending a liner over the left-center field wall for his first dinger of the season.
The one-run game was the sixth already this year for Doolittle and company. They are 3-3 in the tight contests.
Despite hanging four runs on the board, the A’s continued their struggle with runners in scoring position, going 1-for-5 in such at-bats.
Burns was driven in by Josh Reddick, with the team’s only RBI hit in those positions — a single — in the first, and a groundout in the third. But it was Semien who was set to be the offensive hero, with his second career two-homer game, his first coming on May 10, 2015 at the Seattle Mariners.
After the game Semien addressed his recent success at the plate:
“(My swing) felt great tonight. I just want to keep consistent with barreling up the baseball, not necessarily trying to hit home runs, but if it happens it happens. I want to do better with runners on base, and maybe we can blow some innings open that way.”
Semien and his teammates will limp into a day game on Wednesday before receiving a much-needed day off. Along with the Texas Rangers the A’s have taken the field more than any other team, playing nine games in the season’s first nine days.