By Morris Phillips
OAKLAND–The A’s tried to give Sunday’s contest away, but it was the Tigers that actually booted it, on Jeimer Candelario’s fielding error in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Mitch Moreland’s sharply hit ground ball got under Candelario’s glove and body, allowing Matt Olson to score from second base, in the A’s 3-2 win at the Coliseum.
What appeared to be an unlikely mistake with the game on the line gained greater context in the recent history between the two clubs in which the A’s have dominated, winning 22 of 23 since June 2015. Simply, disaster strikes Detroit when facing the A’s, and the Tigers’ new manager A.J. Hinch is merely catching up to the facts.
“Everything that kind of could go wrong did go wrong in this four-game series,” Hinch said. “We didn’t hit and then ultimately we just couldn’t finish them all off.”
Before the game’s deciding play, the A’s did plenty to damage their hopes, especially in leaving a baserunner stranded at third base in the fourth and eighth innings, as five Oakland hitters failed to hit the ball past the infield, and three of the five struck out. Overall, the A’s were 0 for 7 with a runner in scoring position, along with Mark Canha getting picked off first base in the second, and Aramis Garcia hitting into a double play in the fifth.
But while the A’s shot themselves in the foot on the basepaths, starter Chris Bassitt was keeping the A’s afloat with his first exemplary outing of 2021.
Bassitt went six innings, striking out eight, and retiring 14 of 15 in one stretch. The 32-year old veteran relied heavily on his mid-90’s cutter throughout, and caused Detroit’ batters pause with occasional curves and changeups. After being uncharacteristically wild at Arizona, Bassitt controlled his space by starting 15 of 25 batters with strikes, and issuing just two free passes.
“I thought he threw great,” manager Bob Melvin said of Bassitt. “We just didn’t score enough, didn’t support him enough early on. But he only ends up giving up two runs and keeping us in the game.”
The sixth inning offered the Tigers an opportunity they couldn’t refuse or squander, that after an amazing streak of 23 scoreless innings dating back to the first inning on Friday. Candelario drew a leadoff walk, then Willi Castro singled. With two outs, and after both runners advanced, Harold Castro delivered a two-run single and the lead to the Tigers.
Castro’s master stroke effectively ended Bassitt’s afternoon as well, but it didn’t end Detroit’s misfortune at the Coliseum.
In the bottom of ninth with the game tied following Sean Murphy’s solo shot, the sun demanded it make an impactful, cameo appearance. Victor Reyes was cast as the victim, unable to locate Olson’s fly ball as it landed harmlessly 20 feet to his right. That set the A’s up with the potential game-winning run at second base 6with one out. After Matt Chapman struck out, and Murphy walked, Moreland entered as a pinch-hitter batting lefty against left-handed reliever Gregory Soto.
And Moreland made it work.
The A’s were hoping to continue their mastery of AL Central teams on Monday, but the Twins are dealing with COVID issues on multiple fronts and they were shutdown Saturday and Sunday against the Angels, then not cleared for Monday in Oakland. The hope is the Twins’ positive tests will cease and they can resume play with a Twins-A’s doubleheader on Tuesday.
The A’s hope so: they’ve won 69 of 89 since June 2017 against the Twins, Tigers, White Sox, Indians and Royals.