With a 3-2 loss at the hands of the Seattle Mariners on Sunday afternoon, the Oakland Athletics have clinched a losing record for a second-consecutive year — their first such streak since 2007 to 2009.
For the first time in franchise history, the A’s (60-82) also suffered series defeats to the Mariners (75-68) in four straight sets.
While neither Seattle’s starter James Paxton (4-6, 3.97 ERA), 6 innings and two runs allowed, or Oakland’s Raul Alcantara figured into the decision, both hurlers posted solid outings. For the home team, seeing their rookie right-hander take a huge step forward was encouragement enough in a sixth loss on the home stand.
Manager Bob Melvin said that there was a night-and-day difference in the starter’s demeanor between the first two starts of his career:
“You could tell he was a lot more poised — when he went out there he was throwing strikes right away. …I think, the first time out was more just nerves, and getting off to a little bit of rocky start.”
In his second starting assignment as a major leaguer, Alcantara (ND, 0-1, 7.27 ERA) enjoyed much greater success than in his first.
Unable to assert any semblance of command, the 23-year-old was forced from his debut against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim last Monday, having walked one batter and hit three more in just 3 innings of work. Working his way through 5-2/3 innings on Sunday, the rookie held the hot Mariner bats to seven hits and two runs, while walking just one — he did hit another batter, however.
Through translator Alex Apriza, he said:
“I felt better, compared to my first outing, to be able to go 5-2/3 innings. I gave up the two runs early, but Yonder Alonso came up to me and told me, ‘settle down, and we’re going to win this game.'”
Alcantara’s ability to the slow Seattle’s roll absorbed a lift from several stellar defense. Behind his starter, Marcus Semien continued what has been a fabulous defensive home stand. The highlight of his afternoon, though, came in the second, after the Mariners had already scored a pair on a two-run homer from Mike Zunino (11).
Catcher Stephen Vogt was encouraged by his pitcher’s ability to focus and settle in after the home run-yielding mistake:
“After the homer, he really settled down — kept his composure. He came right back and made some pitches. It was good to see him get hit and make the adjustment.”
Flashing the range he has shown more of recently, Semien was able to chase down what appeared to be an RBI single to left, needing a foot-first slide to get there. Showing his largely unheralded mental growth, the shortstop made an immediate sling to third from where Ryon Healy chased the speedy Leonys Martin before a last-second flip to Vogt, whose slap tag ended the threat.
“He doesn’t have a play at first, and you know you have an aggressive runner coming around third — we’ve played against Leonys a lot, and know that he’s going to be an aggressive runner. It’s just as much knowing the opponent.”
Recently called up Joey Wendle put on another impressive defensive display of his own as well.
With help from the first baseman Alonso, who needed every inch if his 6-foot-1 frame to wrangle a wide throw while keeping his foot on the base, Wendle flashed range and a quick release similar to that of Semien.
Retreating into shallow center, the young second baseman made a sliding back-handed snag before firing to Alonso to get the second batter of the game, former Athletic Seth Smith, by the slimmest of margins.
The defensive show continued into the eighth, when the center fielder Eibner finished a long sprint with a diving grab deep in the right center-field gap to rob Dae-ho Lee of an RBI double. The magic ran dry in the ninth, however, as three Mariners hitters were able to just elude the seemingly everywhere gloves of the A’s fielders, giving the visitors a 3-2 lead.
Though the Oakland offense was able to push across two runs in the second they finished the frame with a sour taste in their collective mouths, as the first four batters of the inning were able to reach base — the fourth coming on a bases-loaded walk of Brett Eibner.
In their last at-bat Oakland was dealt the same dominance that has already become the expected from the M’s rookie closer Edwin Diaz (0-3, 2.30 ERA), who has yet to allow and A’s base runner in three innings. His perfect ninth sealed win No. 9.