This is one of those games that felt like it moved through more acts than Wagner’s Ring Cycle. At a tidy three hours and thirty-three minutes, this game fits squarely in Rob Manfred’s “nightmare fuel” bank, partially because of the number of pitching changes (the A’s used a club record NINE pitchers), partially because of the high-scoring nature of the game, and partially because strikeouts take longer than nice first-pitch-swinging groundouts, and the A’s struck out an astounding EIGHTEEN times tonight.
The Fred of Man can rest easy, though, because the last two innings of the game packed more excitement than bungee jumping off the Bay Bridge wearing gasoline pants while smoking a cigar and strapped to a tapir that’s got a snoutful of cocaine. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The A’s used “the Opener” for this game and the Mariners proceeded to open a can of whoopass over the first five pitchers they faced, starting out by tackling reliever Liam Hendricks for two hits and two runs, and then getting to theoretical starter Daniel Mengden for four more runs, because everyone knows if your professor is fifteen minutes late class is canceled. Ben Gamel kicked off the damage with a two-run double in the second to give the Mariners a lead they’d never give back, off lefty specialist Danny Coulombe. Coulombe threw exactly two pitches tonight, and made the mistake of giving Gamel a fastball he torched into the gap. In the third, the Mariners added on against Mengden thanks partially to a luxurious ten-pitch plate appearance by Robinson Cano that ended in a single and a four-pitch walk to Cruz, followed by the A’s continuing their weird rash of defensive miscues when Ramon Laureano misplayed a Denard Span single, allowing Canó to score. Healy then punched a single into right that was ruled a hit but looked like some tough miscommunication between Piscotty and Lowrie. Kyle Seager then followed with a single driving home Span to give the Mariners a 5-1 edge (and yet another error for the A’s.)
We’ve complained about the Mariners not playing add-on when they scent blood in the water, but that wasn’t the case tonight as the Mariners greeted Oakland’s parade of pitchers with hit after hit after hit: 12 total. In fact, the only Mariners hitter who didn’t record a hit tonight was...Nelson Cruz. Huh. (Cruz did draw a walk, so he wasn’t left totally out of the scoring party, and actually showed some good hustle getting around the bases.) By the fifth inning, they had opened up an 8-1 lead and it looked like this one would be a laugher.
"because we're brothers, and brothers hug" pic.twitter.com/x1WO2Larqh— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) September 2, 2018
(Narrator: It would not be a laugher.)
James Paxton returned to the club tonight, supposedly on a pitch count of 80-85 pitches. But James Paxton loves striking out the A’s like I like collecting materials for craft projects I’ll never do. Just one more! Or how about ten! Ten strikeouts! Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah. Pax wound up only making it five innings tonight, because strikeouts are pitch-intensive, and he had a little rust to shake off in the first inning, needing twenty-plus pitches to get through. He also was battling home plate umpire Adrian Johnson’s postage-stamp-sized strike zone, making his strikeouts even more impressive (although only one of his strikeouts was a called strike three). Of the three runs Paxton gave up, one was after Piscotty reached on a dropped third strike, aka my most hated rule in baseball—and of course he came around to score, because baseball—and the other two were on a two-run home run when Turtleneck Enthusiast Mark Canha, who wonders if you read that article in the New Yorker this week, because he did, ambushed a first-pitch fastball with Laureano on after he walked on some pitches that seemed pretty strike-y to this writer. But still, it was a good first start back for Pax. His fastball sat mid-90s, his curve had a nice bite, and he mixed in his cutter later on for swinging strikeouts. The only sticky part came in his final inning of work, after the homer to Canha, when he walked back-to-back batters bringing up Khris Davis with two on and two out.
What do we say to the god of death?
[Confidential to the loud A’s fan, clearly audible on the on-field mic, shouting to Davis “he don’t want to pitch to you! He sucks!” He does, and he doesn’t, thanks for playing.]
big ol' maple leaf imprint in the palm of that glove pic.twitter.com/p25a7Ug4t5— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) September 2, 2018
Unfortunately, things can’t be easy, because when are they ever easy? Alex Colome entered in the eighth and struggled with his command, giving up an oppo dinger to Davis to make in 8-4 and then suffering some bad luck when Piscotty, who is just having the luckiest darn day, had what would have been a fairly easy groundout to Seager carom off the bag and over Seag’s head. Colomé was able to nab Olson on a swinging strike but Laureano singled (first-pitch swinging) and Canha walked, loading the bases. Colomé was able to get Dustin Fowler to swing through a slider, and then Edwin Diaz entered to face Marcus Semien to attempt a four-out not-qute save.
After one pitch, it was suddenly a save situation.
To be fair, it was a lousy pitch by Edi, a slider that just didn’t slide much for a single, and then Span kicked the ball in the outfield, allowing the bases to clear. 8-7 Mariners and suddenly we were back in familiar territory: jealously guarding a one-run lead.
The Mariners couldn’t get anything started against the A’s back-end bullpen option not named Blake Treinen, and then it was up to Edwin to save the team. Again. As he has so many times this season.
And as he has so many times this season, Díaz stepped up. After a long layoff, Edi’s slider command wasn’t so crisp tonight and Jed Lowrie was able to work a walk off him, because Jed Lowrie exists to torture us. In the past, this would have inspired calls on Twitter for Servais to immediately begin warming another reliever, because 2017 Edwin Díaz without his command was a barrel speeding towards the falls of Niagara, and all you could do was brace for impact.
2018 Edwin Díaz is different. 2018 Edwin Díaz looks at which of his pitches are working, and leans on the one he’s got better command of. This Edwin trusts he can get things back on the right track.
Slider not working? Lean on the fastball to known fastball-punisher Khris Davis and trust you can blow it by him enough times before putting him away with the slider. Piscotty? Like Isabelle reported on Edwin’s pitch charting, you could almost imagine him thinking: that guy can’t hit my fastball. Blow it in there at 97 with movement. Matt Olson put up a fight. He knew the slider wasn’t quite working, had watched Edwin miss his location on a slider badly to Piscotty, who fouled it away. He laid off a slider to bring the count to 3-2, then fouled off two good fastballs. Edi tried to put him away with a slider. Olson fouled it off. Edwin was at 30 pitches. He wants to be available for tomorrow’s game.
Edwin decided to end it.
Edwin Díaz is real, and he is fantastic. (Oh, and he’s ours.)