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Bullpen hiccup costs A’s a win, ground in playoff races

The Athletics continued their tailspin Tuesday night at the Oakland Coliseum, falling a fourth time in five games and further losing ground in their hunt for a postseason berth.

For a brief moment, it appeared Oakland had righted its ship, taking a lead behind another solid combo effort by Liam Hendriks, Daniel Mengden, and the clutch hit the team had been in search of for the better part of a week.

But an otherwise deficient offense was unable to add on to a four-run fourth until the advantage had been long-lost, as a trio of relievers couldn’t hold the line in the sixth and the A’s (90-61) fell, 9-7, to the Angels (75-76).

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the A’s clubhouse at the Oakland Coliseum.

This loss hands the A’s their first three-game losing streak since late July. Still, Mengden is confident his club will return to form:

“I think we’ll be fine. We’ve been in every ballgame, we give ourselves a chance to win every time. … We had opportunities tonight. Just waiting for the big hit and the big pitch.”

In his return from a five-week injury absence, Los Angeles lefty Tyler Skaggs was as tough as ever on the A’s, holding Oakland hitless for three frames. But a patient approach, aided by nine-pitch walks drawn by Ramón Laureano in the first and Mark Canha in the third, helped pushed the Angels starter’s pitch count and eventual departure.

Once Skaggs (ND, 8-8, 3.69 ERA) was gone, the A’s jumped on reliever Cam Bedrosian, loading the bases on a pair of walks and their first hit, a Khris Davis single.

Oakland quickly found itself one strike from wasting another opportunity with Canha falling into an 0-2 hole following back-to-back strikeouts. Canha, though, did what Oakland has been unable to in Tampa digging out a 92-mph heater in on the hands for a three-run double.

Canha scored on a Jonathan Lucroy single, and it appeared all had been returned to order, set right for an offense that has led its team to a league-leading 56-24 record over the past three months. But that was not the case; the A’s were held to one hit over the next three innings and didn’t again find the scoreboard until a three-run eighth made things interesting if nothing else.

Meanwhile, an Angels team that had seen all its offense come on one swing of the bat, a solo home run (35) by Mike Trout, found relief in the Oakland bullpen.

Melvin said before the game that the “weirdness” of the opener has subsided in his clubhouse. Hendriks (ND, 0-1, 5.30 ERA) has developed a comfortable routine in preparation for pitching a scoreless first, which he has done in each of his six attempts after Tuesday, and Mengden (ND, 7-6, 4.00 ERA) has conformed seamlessly into his relief starter role.

After a perfect first from Hendriks, Mengden worked four strong holding Los Angeles to two hits and one run.

Mengden echoed his manager’s sentiments:

“Just getting used to it, adapting to it. … I feel like I have my feet under me now, have a grasp on what to do and how to handle it. Feeling really good.”

Melvin said of the hurler’s efforts:

“He gave us what we needed him to, left with the lead. Usually, in that situation, we’re able to close out games.”

Things didn’t go as smoothly for Shawn Kelley, who allowed a hit and a walk while recording one out in the sixth, or Ryan Buchter, who couldn’t get his tasked lefty surrendering a Shohei Ohtani single. No A’s pitcher had a rougher night, however, than Lou Trivino (L, 8-3, 2.50 ERA) who surrendered a deciding grand slam to Kaleb Cowart. It was Cowart’s first of the season, and the first grand slam produced by Los Angeles all year.

While the bullpen’s ineffectiveness, which stretched into a two-run top of the sixth, was the key to the A’s loss, the Oakland crowd of 15,031 may have done more harm than good — really, it was just two.

In the third, with Matt Olson pursuing a foul pop near the camera well on the first base side, the A’s first baseman appeared to have a beat on another in a long list of impressive grabs at the far reaches of the Oakland Coliseum’s expansive foul territory. Instead, it was a fan that reached over the green padded wall to make the catch.

Melvin chose not to request a replay review for the possible fan interference, but in the sixth he had no choice.

With the home club’s 4-1 lead still intact, Angel shortstop Andrelton Simmons sent a fly ball into foul territory just beyond the visitor’s bullpen. Once again, an A’s defender, this time right fielder Stephen Piscotty, appeared to be in position to make another key out only to have a fan reach into the field and rob him of the play.

Melvin’s challenge did not yield the results he had in mind, and Simmons’ at-bat finished with a two-run single. The fan was removed, but the irreversible damage had been done. The skipper had trouble explaining the replay review official’s decision to allow the call on the field to stand:

“I don’t know how you don’t (overturn the call), he was going to catch. I don’t know what they saw that we didn’t see; I asked Stephen and he said he’d have caught it.”

He stopped short of saying the play turn the momentum, but added:

“It’s an out, and you want to get every out you possibly can.”

Piscotty thought the call would stand, though he still has trouble explaining why:

“I never understand when they’re going to overturn stuff. I had a feeling they wouldn’t.”

Of the situation as a whole — bases loaded with one out and a three-run lead — Piscotty took the review time to measure out the possible outcomes and settled on the chance that the decision made may have been best:

“It’s an interesting spot. If I catch that ball, the runner scores and a guy goes to third potentially. We’ve got Lou on the mound and he’s been so dominant I was almost thinking maybe that was a little blessing, he strikes everyone out. It didn’t turn out that way.”

Noé Ramirez (W, 6-5, 4.81 ERA) allowed one walk over 1-1/3 innings to earn the win while Ty Buttrey (S, 4, 0.60 ERA) got five outs to lock down his fourth save, all this month.

With the loss, Oakland lost ground in the races for the American League West division title and top Wild Card spot, as well as falling back toward the Rays in hopes of retaining the second Wild Card position.

On Deck

Brett Anderson (3-5, 4.35 ERA) is scheduled to make a traditional start Wednesday as the A’s look to rediscover the win column. He will face right-hander Felix Peña (3-4, 3.75 ERA) making his first appearance at the Oakland Coliseum.


Andrew Triggs (right triceps strain) will undergo season-ending Thoracic Outlet Surgery on Sept. 26, the A’s announced Tuesday. Triggs (3-1, 5.23 ERA) has not pitched since May 17 and appeared in just nine games this season after pitching in just 12 games in a 2017 season lost to hip surgery. … Trevor Cahill (back) threw on flat ground Tuesday, according to manager Bob Melvin. Cahill (6-3, 3.77 ERA) last pitched on Sept. 9 before having his last start skipped due to back pain which has been diagnosed as rhomboid muscle tightness. Melvin said there is no timetable for his return, adding that a clearer idea will be available once the righty throws off the mound. The skipper added that the club will “hold out hope” for Cahill’s return. … The A’s announced a partnership with Triple-A Las Vegas Monday making the Las Vegas 51s their Triple-A affiliate through the 2020 season.

Kalama Hines is SFBay’s sports director and Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at for full coverage of A’s baseball.

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