The Pirates (39-41) raised the Jolly Roger behind an impressive performance from the bottom of the order, getting six hits and five RBIs from the 6-7-8 portion.
Once they were cut, The A’s (35-45) and ace Sonny Gray (L, 3-7, 5.42 ERA), who gave up all seven runs over six innings, were unable to stop the bleeding. Pittsburgh starter Jeff Locke worked the other way, lasting five frames to collect the win, despite looking at times like he wouldn’t finish two.
After the game, manager Bob Melvin spoke to his starter’s struggles addressing his 11-start winless streak:
“This hasn’t been his best year. He’ll figure it out, and he’ll get better as the year goes along. But, there’s always going to be a year that’s not as good as other years. So far, this is the one for him.”
Judging by the first two innings, the Oakland offense appeared to have carried its explosiveness over from its past eight games.
After a Jed Lowrie walk to open the bottom half of the first, Marcus Semien engaged in a battle of attrition with Locke (W, 8-5, 5.13 ERA). On the 11th pitch of the at-bat, the Pittsburgh lefty had a fastball leak a bit too far over the plate resulting in a two-run homer (17) and a 2-0 lead.
The bomb added to Semien’s home run lead over all other American League shortstops.
Yonder Alonso, who had homered in each of the previous two games, scored a third tally after dropping a bunt down the third base line, beating the shift with two outs. Lowrie quickly drove him in, launching a double to left two pitches later.
Melvin said that Locke, who settled in after needing 54 pitches to get through two, did exactly what his team was prepared for:
“He wasn’t throwing many strikes early on with his fastball. With his changeup, he was. Then he started to locate his fastball a little better… He was pitching backwards and we just didn’t make the adjustment. … He wasn’t throwing many strikes early on with his fastball. With his changeup, he was. Then he started to locate his fastball a little better… He was pitching backwards and we just didn’t make the adjustment.”
As has happened far too often this season, it was a case of two Grays.
The Tennessee righty was mistake free through the first two innings. Lest a single mistake in the third — a home run by Jordy Mercer (5) — Gray again make quick work of the Pirates.
Like Mercer, Josh Harrison chipped in with two hits and two RBIs.
In the fourth, the Oakland starter allowed a one-out double to Andrew McCutchen before eventually allowing the 2013 NL MVP to score on a wild pitch — his first of two on the night, giving him a major league-leading 13.
After a two-run fifth Gray looked to be sending his defense into the dugout down just one, getting the first two batters. A hit batsman was then followed by a walk and a single before a Harrison double to drive in two finished the night’s scoring.
Gray was visibly frustrated when discussing his failure in closing out the sixth:
“That’s something I’ve got to be better at. Once I get to two outs, I’ve got to be able to shut the innings down. I wasn’t able to do that tonight.”
The skipper said that problem is the result of his inability to get the ball down in the zone:
“His ball just crept up in the zone. Early on the ball was down. Command maybe not his best, even (in the first two innings), but when the ball is down it’s moving and when it gets up it flattens out a bit.”
The A’s look to return their ship to the correct heading when they meet the Pirates again on Saturday. Getting the ball will be Rich Hill (8-3, 2.25 ERA), who will make his return from a month-long stint on the disabled list. Hill, who last pitched on May 29, suffered a groin strain which hampered what had been an All-Star quality first half.
The veteran lefty will be opposed by Chad Kuhl (1-0, 5.40 ERA) making his second-career start.