By Charlie O. Mallonee
OAKLAND — If you are planning to come to the ballpark between now and the end of the season, bring seat cushion with you. Every team in the Major Leagues could expand their roster on Saturday. The A’s added eight players to their active roster, bringing their total of available players to 33.
A’s manager Bob Melvin talked about how much the club was looking forward to having the extra help down the stretch in September. After 136 games, a team is tired, bruised and battered from the rigors of playing every day. Melvin was also looking forward to having extra help in the bullpen.
Oakland lost the services of two starters last week. Sean Manaea was diagnosed with rotator cuff tendonitis and may not be available for the remainder of the season. Brett Anderson went down with a strained left forearm and is eligible to come off the disabled list on September 7. The A’s chose not to go out on the waiver trade market for a starter and instead bolstered their bullpen.
Saturday night was the beginning of a new experiment
The Tampa Bay Rays shocked the baseball world earlier this season when they began using an “opener” instead of a starting pitcher in their games. Former Giants reliever Sergio Romo made headlines when he “opened” the game pitching one inning then turning it over to what would have been the starting pitching who was now a long relief pitcher. Confused?
There is a method behind the madness. First, the Rays really believe in the strength of their bullpen. Secondly, the Rays are adhering to the concept of limiting the number times hitters are allowed to see a “starting pitcher.” The prevailing thought is that batter should only see a pitcher twice because the hitters become too effective in the third time at bat.
The A’s decided to go with the same philosophy on Saturday night. Reliever Liam Hendricks was put into the role of “opener.” He lasted 1.2 innings, giving up two runs off two hits. He gave up both runs in the second inning. Danny Coulombe came on to relieve Hendricks and gave up an RBI double to the only batter he faced. Emilio Pagan then took over from Coulombe and ended the second inning by getting Haniger to fly out in foul territory. That second inning set the tone for the rest of the game.
“Starter” Daniel Mengden entered the game in the top of the third inning and lasted 2.0 innings. He gave up four runs (three earned) on five hits. Mengden walked one and struck out one Mariner. You will want to listen to Melvin’s comments about Mengden’s performance.
The A’s newest pitcher–reliever Cory Gearrin–made his Oakland debut in the game in the fifth inning, and it was less than a stellar beginning. Melvin said that Gearrin is not used to pitching from behind (the A’s were down 8-1 at that point). Gearrin allowed two runs (both earned) on three hits. Melvin said Gearrin just needs to get his feet on the ground and he will be fine.
The A’s also used Hatcher, Buchter, Wendelken, and Familia as relievers in the game. For those of you scoring at home, that is a total of nine pitchers used by the A’s in nine innings.
Those nine pitchers gave up 8 runs (7 earned) off 12 hits. They struck out five M’s batters and walked two.
The M’s used six pitchers in the game even though their starting pitcher (who was a traditional starting pitcher) James Paxton lasted 5.0 innings. Seattle pitching gave up 7 runs (6 earned) on six hits. They walked six and struck out 18 Oakland batters. Paxton struck out 10.
Oh, you would like to know who won the game
I am sorry. I am so tired from the length of the game (3 hours and 33 minutes) that I forgot to mention the Mariners won the game 8-7. Paxton was the winner and is now 11-5 on the year. “Opener” Liam Hendricks took the loss and is now 0-1 for the season.
The M’s (76-60) now lead the four-game series 2-1. The Astros (83-53) beat the Angels Saturday night, so the A’s (81-56) are now 2.5 games back of Houston for first-place in the AL West. The win moves Seattle within 4.5 games of the A’s for second-place and for the second Wild Card slot.
Just when you thought it was over–it wasn’t
The A’s were trailing 8-2 as they came to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning. If it had not been a fireworks night, a good portion of the 28,760 fans in the crowd would have already been on the freeway headed home. Instead, the fans were still in their seats after three-plus hours and were ready to see their team make some fireworks of their own.
Alex Colome came out of the bullpen to take over the pitching duties for Seattle. The first batter he faced was Khris Davis who promptly dispatched a 2-1 pitch into the right field seats for his 40th home run of the season. The crowd came to life and this reporter got his focus back because the A’s are team of late-inning miracles.
Stephen Piscotty followed up the home run with a single. Matt Olson struck out pinch hitting for Pinder. Ramon Laureano singled up the middle and Piscotty moved up to second base. Mark Canha walked to load the bases with one out. Dustin Fowler entered the game as a pinch hitter and struck out.
That brought a pitching change by Seattle, who sent Edwin Diaz to the mound and Colome to the showers. Marcus Semien hit a double to left-center field that cleared the bases with the help of a fielding error charged to Denard Span and made the score 8-7. Matt Chapman struck out to end the inning.
Another wild ninth inning
In the top of the ninth, Jeurys Familia took the hill to stop the Mariners from scoring additional runs. Familia set the side down in order giving the A’s a chance to win it in the bottom of the ninth.
The M’s brought in their closer Edwin Diaz to stop any thoughts the A’s had of winning the game. Jed Lowrie led off the ninth with a base-on-balls. Khris Davis went down swinging. Stephen Piscotty also struck out, so it all came down to Matt Olson with Lowrie at first. Olson also became a strikeout victim and Diaz notched his 51st save of the season.
Back to the need for a seat cushion
This game featured 15 runs, 18 hits, and 13 pitching changes. That required 3 hours and 33 minutes to complete. Trust me, you will want a seat cushion for any game that goes that long. Plus, get seats close to a restroom.
The A’s and M’s wrap up this four-game series on Sunday at 1:05 PM PDT.
Seattle will send RHP “King” Felix Hernandez (8-12, 5.49) to the mound to make his 401st MLB start. The A’s will return to using a traditional starting pitcher by sending RHP Edwin Jackson (4-3, 3.03) to the hill.