Not enough offense in late innings does in A’s edged by O’s 3-2

The Oakland A’s starter Mike Fiers lasted six innings giving up all three Baltimore Orioles runs at the Oakland Coliseum on Fri Apr 30, 2021 (@athleticsnation photo)

Baltimore 3 – 8 – 0

Oakland 2 – 5 – 0

By Lewis Rubman

Apr 30, 2021 Friday

OAKLAND–The 16-10 A’s escaped from the House of Horrors-a half an hour’s stroll from that celebration of surrealism, the Salvador Dalí Museum, in St. Petersburg-with a split in their hard fought four game series against the Tampa Bay Rays, né Devil Rays.

To achieve this, they had to overcome Tampa Bay’s outstanding starting rotation and none too shabby bulllpen, their own mistakes, and the inexplicable calls of umpires Chad Fairchild and Brian Gorman, not to mention the abrasive imitatation grass that complements the overhead maze of rings and catwalks that make trying to catch fly balls at Tropicana field not just difficult but hazzardous, the incarnation of Dalí’s worst nightmares.

For al ofl that, Oakland went 4-3 on their working tour of the Chesapeake and Tampa Bays, returning to the shores of San Francisco Bay with a lead of two and a half games over the surprising Seattle Mariners for first place in the AL West.

It wasn’t any of the obvious menaces of the Trop’s architecture that inflicted the worst physical damage suffered by the Athletics in St. Pete. Hidden in the bowels of that excreciable edifice are batting cages. Before the final game of the series, Matt Olson, practicing the swing that had improved his offense to a team-leading BA of .296 and home run total of six, slammed a ball off the side of one of those cages.

The spheroid bounced back and hit him in the left eye. No bones were broken, but the A’s slick fielding slugger, who also is tied with Jed Lowrie for the team lead in RBI at 17, will be out of action for a while. Mitch Moreland started at first base in Olson’s stead tonight. Lowrie filled the DH spot for Moreland, and Tony Kemp took Lowrie’s usual place at second.

While the team was in Florida, the A’s announced Mike Fiers’ return to the active roster and, at least for the time being, the rotation. The mainstay of the Athletics’ starting mound core since he joined the team in 2018 toed the rubber to open tonight’s contest against the Orioles, the only team besides the Rays to have defeated the green and gold since April 8.

Starting for Baltimore was their ace, John Means, making his first appearance since he held the A’s to one run over 6-1/3 innings last Sunday in the game that snapped Oakland’s 13 game winning streak. That gave him a record of 2-0, 1.50 for the young season.

It wasn’t long before the A’s got another run off him. Sean Murphy, whose heroics behind and at the plate were instrumenetal in gaining the split in St. Petersburg, led off the home second with a wallop that landed in the right field seats, a few feet to the left of the foul line. That was home run number four and RBI number nine for the Oakland catcher.

Cedric Mullins got that back in the top of the third with a two out fly that also fell into the rilght field stands a few feet to the left of the foul pole for his fourth round tripper of the season. Austin Hays followed them with his third, a no doubter that landed between the left field foul line and the stairway over the Ring Central sign. The Birds tacked on another run.

In the fifth after number eight batter Chance Sisco’s lead off single to right was followed by Ramón Urías’s double to left. The top of the Baltimore batting order was able to push only Sisco home, on a grounder to second by Mullins, giving him his second RBI of the night.

Baltimore threatened to take command of the game with a lead off walk to D.J. Stewart, followed by a single to Ryan Montcastle. But the pitcher’s best friend came to Fiers’ aid when Río Ruíz hit a grounder up the middle that was fielded by Andrus in the shift and converted into a U6-3 DP. Pat Valaika ended the frame by flying out to Piscotty in short right field.

Means, all the while, was mowing down Oakland’s batters. Following Murphy’s homer, none of them reached base until Laureano dropped a single into center with two down in the sixth. He was stranded at first when Lowrie grounded out to second.

Six innings were enough work for Fiers. He threw 83 pitches (54 strikes), surrended six hits, two of which left the park, and two walks. He struck out three, and all three of his runs were earned. Deolis Guerra, who had pitched poorly in Baltimore but well in Tampa Bay, took over in the seventh and retired the side in order, striking out two in the process.

It was in the seventh that MItch Moreland broke the spell. With two outs and the bases empty (natch!), he blasted a 92 mph four seamer 406 feet over the fence, slighty to the right of dead center field.

Sergio Romo, pitching a 1-2-3 eighth, kept it a 3-2 game, although Laureano had to race to the warning track to capture Stewart’s drive that followed strike outs to Hays and Mancini.

Means didn’t come out for the eighth, having thrown 93 pitches, of which 63 were strikes. He gave up only two runs, both earned, three hits, two of which were round trippers, and a walk. He struck out nine. HIs replacement, Paul Fry, started off well, getting Andrus out with a bounder back to the mound, but then he walked Kemp, who stole second and then, one pitch later, advanced to third on a passed ball.

Fry struck Canha out, perhaps because the A’s left fielder had taken a strike to allow Kemp to swipe second. In any case, Fry was yanked, replaced by Travis Lakins, Sr., who walked Laureano but got Lowrie out on a fly to medium deep center. The score remained 3-2.

The top of the ninth provided a combination that brought a smile to the faces of the face-masked name freaks in the press box (or at least to one of us). Yusmeiro Petit was brought in to pitch, and calling the balls and strikes behind the plate was umpire Will Little.

It also provided an exciting example of Ramón Laureano’s extraordinary arm. Ryan Mounetcastle reached first on a broken bat Texas League single to right center. After Ruíz flew out to left, Pat Valaika laced a single to right. Mountcasttle tried to advance to third, and Laureano cut him down with a perfect strike to Chapman.

Murphy greeted César Valdéz, who came in to close the game in the bottom of the ninth, with a single to left. Vimael Machín came in to run for him and advanced to second on Chapman’s single to right. This brought Moreland, whose homer in his previous at bat had pulled the A’s to within a run, to the plate with the tying run in scoring position and the potential winning run on first with none out.

Moreland smacked a vicious line drive that was speared at third by Ruíz, who rifled a throw to shortstop Urías, covering second in the shift. Umpire Junior Valentine called Machín out for a rallly-killing double play. But a replay showed that the A’s pinch runner had gotten back in time, and so Oakland’s hopes remained alive. Seth Brown pinch hit for PIscotty and flew out to Mullins in right center, allowing Machín to move up to third. Valdéz and Andrus went to 3-2 before the A’s hopes died in Mullins glove in center field.

The win went to Means, who now is 3-0, 1.70. The loss was charged to Fiers, who stands and 0-1, 4.50. Valdéz got the save, his sixth out of seven opportunities.

The two teams will face off tomorrow afternoon at 1:07. The Birds will send right hander Matt Harvey (1-2,4.26) to the mound while the White Elephants will entrust their fate to lefty Jesús Luzardo (1-2, 5.40).

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