The Seattle Mariners starter Justus Sheffield delivers in the first inning against the Oakland A’s at the Coliseum on Sat Sep 26, 2020 (AP News photo)
Seattle. 5. 7. 0
Oakland. 1. 6. 1
By Lewis Rubman
OAKLAND–Last night’s thrilling (and chilling) walk off victory of the A’s over the visiting Seattle Mariners may have seemed meaningless, but it wasn’t. Oakland already had clinched its berth in the wild card free for all; it even had a lock on home field advantage. But the question of who their opponent will be still was—and still is—an open one. Take a look at the records of the eight teams have qualified for the shoot out.
1) Tampa Bay (38-20, 6.55) 2) Oakland (34-22, .614) 3) Minnesota (35-23, 6.03) 4) Cleveland (34-24, 5.86) 5) New York (32-26, .553) 6) Houston (29-29, .500) 7) Chicago (34-24, .586) 8) Toronto (31-27, .534)
The top four will be the home teams, with the leading team, Tampa Bay, playing the team with the worst record of the eight, the second place team, the A’s, facing the team with the next worst record, the White Sox, and so on. Oakland, going into today’s games, had three more left to play, all against Seattle. Both Minnesota and Cleveland have two games left. That makes it mathematically possible for Oakland to be the fourth seed when tumult and the shouting have died down.
Regardless of who ends up coming to the East Bay for the best of three series scheduled to begin on Tuesday, the home field advantage, although reduced by the absence of paying fans, is real. The A’s know how to deal with the Coliseum’s spacious foul territory and treacherous wind currents. That counts for a lot.
Seattle sent Justus Sheffield to the mound to face the Athletics in the first of today’s two seven inning contests. The 24 year old southpaw is a formidable opponent. He was the Indians’ first round draft choice in 2014. He had gone 4-3, 3.75 this year with the M’s and has given up only five earned runs in his last 20 innings of work. He pitched a good game today.
Mike Minor was the A’s starter. The question was which Mike Minor would show up, the 2019 all-star or the 1-6, 5.92 version of 2020. Oakland’s share of that record was 1-1,6.61, which included a seven inning, two hit shutout against the Mariners at Safeco Field on September 14.
By the bottom of the second, the A’s were back to their tantalizing ways, loading the bases on back to back singles by Mark Canha and Matt Olson and a walk to Stephen Piscotty, with Khris Davis’s fly out to right interspersed. It was all for naught because Jake Lamb was called out on an infield fly to short and Jonah Heim flew out to right.
In the first three frames, La Stella erased Semien twice by grounding into DPs. They’re a good double play combination, but that’s not the type of twin killing the A’s are looking for in them.
Oakland finally broke through in the bottom of the fourth. Canha led off with a double to right. He moved on to third on Olson’s single to left and scored on Khris Davis’s sac fly to right. But the double play once more dashed Oakland’s hopes. Stephan Piscotty’s hard line drive went straight into first baseman Evan White’s glove. White whipped the pellet over to France, and that was it for Oakland in the fourth.
Number nine hitter Branden Bishop greeted Minor with a double to left to open the visitors’ sixth. Crawford’s single to left brought him home to tie the score. That was it for Minor, who finished his day’s work with a line of one run (earned) on four hits and no walks over five full innings. He struck out seven and 55 of his 80 pitches were strikes.
Minor’s replacement, Joakim Soria, had to deal with a hairy situation. Canha, the hero of last night’s fray, mishandled Crawford’s hit, an error that allowed him to advance to second. Sic transit gloria mundi.
France lined Soria’s first offering to the warning track in right center field, putting Crawford on third with only one out. But Soria kept barred the door to the Mariners by striking out Kyle Lewis and, after a declared walk to Kyle Seager, getting Luis Torrens to fly out to Laureano in center.
Liam Hendriks threw a 1,2,3 seventh, but couldn’t finish eighth. After Bishop sacrificed the emplaced pinch runner, Dee Strange-Gordon, Crawford drove him home with what proved to be the winning run by singling to center.
He then stole second and scored on France’s single to left. A rare losing performance by the mainstay of the Athletics’ bullpen. Lou Trivino came in to wipe up what was left of Seattle’s inning, but the wiper became the wipee when Kyle Seager took him deep to bring Crawford home, the Mariners’ fourth and fifth tallies.
Sheffield got the win. He’s now 5-3 with an ERA of 3.58. He gave up one run (earned) on five hits in five innings of work. He walked two and struck out one. His pitch count was 82, with 49 strikes.
It was a disappointing loss for the A’s. But they will have a chance to revenge it in about a half an hour in a make up of the game scheduled to have been played on the banks of the Puget Sound on September 3. Oakland, as the putative visitors, will bat first. And, as I mentioned at the start of this dispatch, there still is a lot to be decided in this short, action packed season.