By Morris Phillips
AP photo: The Oakland A’s pitcher Raul Alcantara put out a much better start but couldn’t get in the win column against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday at the Oakland Coliseum
OAKLAND–Raul Alcantara was all over the place in his big league debut on Labor Day. He left a far more focused and lasting impression on Sunday, but it didn’t result in a win as the A’s were swept by the Mariners, losing 3-2.
No A’s pitcher had walked three guys and committed a balk in a game in the team’s history in Oakland. In fact, the churning record books revealed that the embarrassing feat hadn’t been done since 1930 when Howard Ehmke had a meltdown.
Ehmke’s poor game came at the end of a 16-year big league career, and less than a year year after he started Game 1 of the World Series and struck out 13 in a complete game win, then considered a stroke of genius by manager Connie Mack to start a nearly forgotten veteran who hadn’t pitched in more than a month leading up to Game 1.
For Mack, the decision to start Ehmke was one of the biggest moves of his legendary managerial career. For Ehmke, it was redemption for an aging pitcher that had a solid, but below-the-radar career to that point.
After winning the Series that year, the A’s brought Ehmke back for the 1930 season, but after his meltdown performance, he was released less than two months into the season.
While Ehmke’s meltdown was his swan song, the A’s maintained that Alcantara’s was beginner’s nerves for an emerging pitcher that had figured it out at the minor league level after a brief, but eye-popping stint at AAA Nashville. On Sunday, the organization’s instincts proved correct in Alcantara’s six plus innings of work in which he allowed seven hits and was hurt only by Mike Zunino’s two-run homer in the second inning.
“I think his stuff his really, really good, it’s definitely an indication of what we thought and what I thought coming into this week it would be,” catcher Stephen Vogt said.
It may have been Vogt’s decision to throw Zunino a second slider in the at-bat that may have been a bigger mistake than Alcantara’s in throwing the pitch. Even to that point, the Dominican pitcher had shown his fastball-change combo was electric, according to Vogt. Afterwards, Zunino said seeing the slider a first time allowed him to react quicker to it the second time.
The hanging slider was crushed, ending up in the left field seats, more than 400 feet from the plate.
But the rest of the afternoon would be partially frustrating for Mariners’ hitters who compiled 12 hits, but couldn’t come up with the big one in a game that remained tied 2-2 from the second inning to the ninth.
In the ninth, Zunino struck again with a leadoff double, and Ketel Marte delivered the winning run with a single off Ryan Madson scoring pinch-runner Ben Gamel.
Offensively, the A’s had another frustrating afternoon, compiling six singles and Brett Eibner’s RBI triple in the second inning. The A’s as a team have the second lowest batting average in the American League, and had scored just 39 runs in their previous 14 games before Sunday.
The Mariners have won five straight, while the A’s fell to a season-worst 22 games below .500.
On Monday, the A’s travel to Kansas City with Ross Detwiler facing the Royals’ Dillon Gee.
BUTLER RELEASED: The A’s parted ways with designated hitter Billy Butler before Sunday’s game, a surprising move given that he had nearly $10 million remaining on his contract for the remainder of this year, and next. But Butler continued his regression at the plate that surfaced at the conclusion of his lengthy career in Kansas City, hitting .258 with 19 home runs in 236 games in Oakland.
Did Butler’s physical confrontation with teammate Danny Valencia in the team’s clubhouse last month factor into the decision? The A’s say no, but it’s hard to believe that given the team’s emphasis on chemistry after last year’s team was considered less than cohesive.