In the first inning no one had any idea that Oakland A’s starter Sean Manaea seen here throwing to the Tampa Bay Rays line up would throw a near no hitter into the eighth inning at the Oakland Coliseum on Fri May 7, 2021 (AP News photo)
Tampa Bay 1 – 3 – 1
Oakland 2 – 7 – 0
By Lewis Rubman
May 7, 2021
OAKLAND–The A’s have been facing some veteran hurlers recently, but none as veteran as 41 year old Rich Hill, their antagonist for tonight. Of all the players in the major leagues, only Alberto Pujols is older than he is, and yesterday Pujols was designated for assignment.
Hill’s pitching for Tampa Bay, i.e., St. Petersburg, reminds me that Ring Lardner, who wrote You Know Me, Al, which Virginia Woolf said contained “the best prose that has come our way,” and “a story about baseball, a game which is not played in England, a story written often in a language which is not English,” as well as “Golden Honeymoon,” a story that depicts St. Petersburg as a place where, like triples in Ramón Laureano’s glove, retired people go to die. (I’m 80 years old, so I can get away with this sort of morbid ageism).
Among his baseball travels during his 16 year major league career, was a sojourn with Oakland, for whom he started 14 games in 2016. Frankie Montás was one of the players the A’s got in exchange for sending Hill, along with Josh Reddick, to the Dodgers. Going into tonight’s fray at 1-1, 6.39, Rich hoped to show that despite his age, he’s on the hill, not over it. He, not incidentally, also hoped to extend the Rays’ five game winning streak, which has vaulted them into second place in the AL East, a game and a half behind Boston.
Sean Manaea, going for Oakland, is, at 29, not quite young enough to be Hill’s son, but easily could be his nephew. Like the rest of the A’s, he’s had a mixed season, taking the mound tonight was a record of 3-1, 3.48 over six starts. In his last three, he went 2-0,2.65. He received no decision in his most recent outing, giving up four runs on seven hits in five innings against Baltmore five days ago. Before that, he faced the Rays in St. Pete, going five innings and giving up four hits without a decision.
Manaea had a score to settle with Rays; he was the losing pitcher in the 2019 wild card game against them. Like Mike Fiers, who was ineffective against Toronto yesterday afternoon, he has a no-hitter to his credit. He accomplished that feat in April 2018, against Boston in the Coliseum. By the way, on this day two years ago, Fiers, after a pre-game delay of about an hour and forty minutes due to the misfunctioning of the left field light banks, threw his second no-no, defeating the Cincinnati Reds, 2-0.
The A’s mound corps, starters and relievers alike, has been bouncing around between being a concern and a cause for pride and back again to being a concern. For the first 19 games of the season, even including the horrendous 0-6 stretch that marred the opening week of the season, Oakland’s team ERA was 2.73.
Now it’s 4.33. Only three American League teams have a higher one. Opposing hitters are doing so at a .257. In this they lead the league. (Remember that this has not been a hitters’ year). The Janus like nature of the home team’s pitching staff can be seen in its league leading status in both shut outs and wild pitches. (All of these figures are as of around 2:00 0’clock this afternoon).
Before Wednesday,the A’s relievers hadn’t blown a save or been charged a loss. By today, they had done both. Yesterday and the day before, the bull pen surrendered 12 runs; in the dozen contests that preceded that two day melt down, they’d given up a mere 10.
A bright spot had been Yusmeiro Petit’s 12 inning scoreless streak, which he extended tonight in the eighth and ninth innings to preserve a 1-1 tie and Jake Diekman to get the win by striking out both batters he faced in the top of the ninth before Seth Brown’s walk off home run gave Oakland the victory.
Oakland almost jumped out to an early lead in the second when, on an 0-1 count, Stephen Piscotty pulled a 72 mph curve into the left field stands, just a few outside the foul pole. But Hill shut down Elvis Andrus and Tony Kemp to keep the scoreless tie intact for the nonce.
Hill benefited from some excellent defense behind him in he bottom the sixth. Yandy Díaz made a nifty scoop of a grounder Olson hit behind him and first and beat his fellow first sacker to the bag. Then Manuel Margot made a diving catch of Sean Murphy’s dying quail to left to end the inning.
It seemed as though Manaea were paying hommage Dallas Braden’s Mothers’ Day perfect game as he set down the first 18 batters he faced. Then he walked Randy Arozamena to open the seventh. He struck out Margot, and then allowed a mighty blast to right center by Margot. Piscotty caught it with a little dump at the wall, and Yandy Díaz grounded into a 6-4 force out to end that frame.
Hill didn’t come out for the Oakland seventh. He had pitched a beautiful game, one in which he reminded me of Ed Lopat, throwing fast balls in the 80s and lots of breaking pitches, with excelllent control. He allowed only two hits, two walks, and a hit batter on 79 pitches, of which 56 were strikes.
His succesor, Andrew Kittredge, wasn’t as successful. After Chapman fouled out to first, Jed Lowrie got his third hit of the night, a double to right center. Seth Brown, pinch hitting for the right handed Piscottiy against the righty Kittredge, hit a single through the shift to brng in Lowrie with the game’s first run.
The elation of that one run lead was deflated when Mike Brosseau opened the eighth with a double to right center and Mike Zunino brought him home with the tying run on a single to center. The no-hitter and the lead were gone, and, after he struck out Keven Kiermaier looking, so was Manaea. He had pitched magnificently and left the game with a line of one run on two hits and one walk. He struck out 10 Rays on 90 pitches. 63 of them were strikes. Yusmeiro Petit was called on to replace him.
In spite of a blown call on what should have been a 3-6-1 double play, a called that was left standing on review, Petit managed to wiggle out of the inning after a single by Willy Adames had put men on the corners. He also pitched to one batter in the ninth, Margot, who lay down a bunt to third and was thrown out by the slick fielding Chapman. Petit then gave way to Jake Diekman, struck out his two batters.
Kittridge gave way to Pete Fairbanks, who kept the A’s off the board the in eight and who yielded to Jeffrey Springs, who couldn’t in the ninth. Seth Brown, who had driven in the game’s first run in the seventh took Springs 392 feet to right to give Oakland a hard fought and well earned win.
Diekman’s win was his second and brought his ERA down to 1.93, exactly one run higher than Petit’s phenominal 0.93. The loss charged to Springs put his record at 2-1,2.45.
Today’s game is going to be a tough act to follow. Tomorrow’s is slated to start at 1:07, with Frankie Montás (3-2,5.87) going mano a mano against Tyler Glasnow (4-1,2.06)