By Morris Phillips
Hard to believe, and even harder to watch, the A’s finished their season in familiar fashion. Building three, one-run leads, squandering them, and ultimately falling short after a valiant, ninth inning comeback in a 7-6 loss to the Astros at Minute Maid Park.
In the complicated, nuanced vernacular unique to this sometimes confounding game of baseball, you can’t make this stuff up.
You can imagine what manager Bob Melvin said after the game. Really, in this case you could mimic his words as they were said.
“We came up just short, like we did this season, unfortunately,” Melvin said. “But I think next year, it just gives us a little bit more edge to get back to the postseason.”
The A’s finished the season 86-76, third in the AL West behind the Astros and the hard-luck Mariners, who missed the postseason for an on-going record within all of the four major U.S. sports of 20 consecutive seasons. The A’s opened the season with six losses, but followed that soon after with a 13-game win streak, and their 44-21 record that concluded on June 18 was the best run in Major League Baseball within that 65-game stretch.
Then things got disjointed, the team’s momentum stalled, and did so in a frustrating way in which the team’s offense and pitching took turns sputtering. The A’s finished the season with a 42-50 record in their last 92, With the postseason still within reach in the last three weeks season, the A’s lost 12 of 16.
That’s a long stretch to play poorly, and a more intense level of frustration followed the team in September. It was hard on the team, the management and the fans. But the A’s are clearly capable. When Melvin says they can bounce back in 2022, that’s almost a certainty given their track record. But this is Oakland, California, and these are the A’s: what happens this off-season is anyone’s guess.
But we do know this: Melvin’s correct, the 2022 A’s can bounce back, but as always they’re going to need the majority of their roster intact, and make some pricey decisions that more often than not have lead them to do something less than pricey. Just the decisions regarding retaining Ramon Laureano (80-game PED suspension) and Starling Marte (arguably the most effective trade deadline acquisition in MLB) will be fascinating.
But this division is anyone’s to control, even with the presence of the 2017 champion Astros. The Angels have spent the last six seasons issuing expensive contracts, but getting little to show for it. We’ve already mentioned the plight of Mariners. The Rangers are in rebuilding mode, although their new stadium and surprisingly, robust attendance could speed up a revival. And the Astros have been great, but nobody stays great forever, and the return or possible retirement of Dusty Baker as manager will be one of the postseason’s storylines.
Of course, the A’s have their own uncertainties to add to the mix. Despite the easing of COVID restrictions, their attendance was abysmal. And the Oakland-Las Vegas “where will they play?” saga is enough to cripple any franchise especially given the drama has reached its second decade.
So in summation: we’ll see what transpires.
On Sunday, the A’s scored single runs in the second and third, getting solo shots from Seth Brown and Tony Kemp. But the Astros matched, and the game was tied 2-2 in the fourth, when the A’s gained a third lead, 3-2, on Kemp’s sacrifice fly that scored Luis Barrera.
A’s starter Cole Irvin went six innings, allowing five hits and striking out four, but he departed trailing 4-3 after he was touched for a two-run homer courtesy of Kyle Tucker in the fifth.
Houston added insurance runs in the seventh and eighth and appeared to be headed to the playoffs gracefully, leading 6-3 headed to the ninth. The AL West champs will host the White Sox in a best-of-five starting Thursday.
But the A’s came up clutch in the ninth. Chad Pinder led off with a base hit, and Seth Brown brought the visitors within a run and nobody out with a two-run homer that was the seventh of eight hit in the game.
The eighth? With two outs, Khris Davis delivered, tying the game and bringing back memories of his best days in an Oakland uniform.
Melvin turned to Lou Trivino to handle the bottom of the ninth, and get the final game of the season to extras. But it didn’t happen.
Jason Castro led off with a single, and after Jose Altuve was retired, Trivino surrendered a double to Yordan Alvarez with Castro stopping at third. Two pitches later, the season ended with Mark Canha’s swiping concession of a base hit from Yuli Gurriel that landed less than 10 feet in front of the leftfielder.
“We didn’t finish off the game like we wanted, but to have the fight in the ninth inning to come back and tie the game like that, especially with Khris’ homer at the end, it was a really good feeling,” Melvin said.