A’s undone by their own mistakes, drop finale in Texas, 8-1

April 10, 2017

MLB, Oakland Athletics

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inning of a baseball game Sunday, April 9, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Mike Stone)

By Morris Phillips

The A’s lopsided loss to the Rangers to end the first week of the new season was another reminder of how things are done these days to win games at the major league level.

Hitters no longer focus on batting averages, or on-base percentages, or strikeout totals.  While those metrics still carry weight, nothing is more impactful than a big hit, or a big inning at the expense of those previously mentioned measures of a hitter’s consistency.  In many ways, it’s a philosophy that’s the polar opposite of Oakland’s Billy Ball, but one the A’s are acutely aware of nonetheless.

On Sunday at Globe Life Park, A’s starting pitcher Sean Manaea posted a couple of impressive totals, a career-best 10 strikeouts and just three hits allowed, but saw the Rangers undo his potential gem with two bold strokes.

First, Joey Gallo hit a three-run homer off Manaea in the second inning, taking advantage of the pitcher in a frame in which he had already thrown 20 pitches.  Not surprisingly, the inning started with a strikeout, but devolved when Ryan Rua and Robinson Chirinos picked up two-out base hits. With the runners aboard, Gallo deposited the first pitch he saw over the right field wall.

Gallo, a minor league call up that has had bits and pieces of action with the Rangers over the last three seasons, registered his first hit off a left-handed pitcher at the big league level in nearly two years.  Gallo’s blast traveled 400 feet, not surprising for a hulking slugger who hasn’t established himself for two reasons: his high strikeout rate, and the presence of future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre at his preferred position of third base. On Sunday, with Beltre on the disabled list, Gallo was in the lineup, showing the Texas brass that he can fight through the strikeouts, and get to the home runs.

“He understands he’s a big guy with big power, and he’s going to strike out,” Rangers’ manager Jeff Bannister said of Gallo. “He’s not overanalyzing any single at-bat.  It’s not the end of the game for him.”

So what transpired on Gallo’s next at-bat? Manaea struck him out, no surprise given the dynamics. But for Gallo’s third plate appearance in the sixth, Manaea was lifted after throwing just 86 pitches, as manager Bob Melvin had seen enough after his lefty walked the previous hitter, Rua, after hitting the batter before that, Nelson Mazara.

Yes, Manaea struck out 10 of the 24 batters he faced in just 86 pitches. But he also walked a pair, hit Mazara with a pitch that glanced off his helmet, uncorked a wild pitch, and committed a throwing error, one of three the A’s committed on Sunday.

That brought rookie flamethrower Frankie Montas into the game with the bases loaded, one out, and he promptly walked Chirinos to increase the Rangers lead to 4-0.  Then with Gallo down 0-2, the big slugger delivered a two-run single, effectively ending the game with the A’s trailing by six runs in the seventh.

Again, Gallo reinvented himself on the fly at Oakland’s expense.  The base hit on an 0-2 count was a first for the third baseman. Gallo had never previously hit safely at the big league level in an 0-2 count, striking out a whopping 38 times in 42 fruitless at-bats.

As for the A’s, a trio of numbers told their story: the aforementioned three errors (first baseman Ryon Healy’s fielding gaffe allowed Rougned Odor to reach in the four-run sixth), 11 men left on base, and 1 for 10 batting with runners in scoring position.

The A’s actually outhit the Rangers, 8-7, a statistical anomaly rendered into a minor footnote.

The A’s move on to Kansas City for the Royals’ home opener on Monday afternoon.  Jharel Cotton and the Royals’ Ian Kennedy are the listed, starting pitchers with both having lost their initial starts.

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