Sunday, September 7, 2014

From the Office of the County Clerk - G142: Astros at Athletics

The A's really needed this game - one where they rallied late for the win - if they are to turn around their recent slump.  The A's have gone 9-19 since August 4, at which time they led the AL West by a gazillion games or something.  And this is a familiar story for the Astros - one where Chad Qualls takes the loss against the A's in a late-inning meltdown.  Astros lose, 4-3, after the A's rally to score three in the ninth off Feldman and Qualls.

Let's skip the preliminary essay, and go straight to the recap...

On the Mound:
The story of the day was another solid, near-dominant performance by Scott Feldman, who has rounded into some great form recently.  Scott was awesome through eight innings, but tired late to put two runners on - both of whom would score - in the ninth.  His final line was a pretty decent 8.1IP, 7H, 3R/2ER, 0BB, 6K.  Feldman threw 116 pitches in falling two outs short of his second complete game in a row.

The early part of this game flew by.  Feldman didn't exactly get lit up, and his opposite Scott Kazmir had a no-hitter going through five.  The only inning where Feldman was in trouble (prior to the ninth, at least) was the third, when the A's loaded the bases with no outs on a reached-on-error (as Villar lost his feet fielding the ball), a single to left, and a bunt single which was placed perfectly down the first-base line and was misplayed by Jesus Guzman.  The A's scored a run on a sac-fly to left, with Grossman's throw to the plate going miles over the head of the cutoff man.  But the A's runners on first and second didn't think to advance and that mental error (mostly from Eric Sogard, who was the runner at second) proved vital as Feldman got Josh Donaldson to GIDP 5-4-3 two pitches later to end the frame.

The next baserunner the Feldman allowed was in the sixth, when Coco Crisp led off with a single, later stealing second.  However, he was stranded there when Feldman set down Brandon Moss, Josh Donaldson and Adam Dunn in order.  At the time, that looked big because the Astros led, 2-1.

Feldman allowed a two-out single to Astros-killer Jed Lowrie in the seventh, and he retired the side in order in the eighth on 8 pitches.  At this stage, I thought that his stuff was a little flatter, and he was assisted with a good defensive play at first by Guzman, and a first pitch pop up by Coco Crisp.  After Brandon Moss flew out to end the frame (on a great sliding catch from Alex Presley), Feldman sat at 104 pitches, and was due to face the 3-4-5 hitters in the order if he were to come out to finish the game.

Feldman did come out for the ninth, and he allowed a single to Donaldson to RF (on a weird in-out swing), then got Adam Dunn to line out to CF.  When Derek Norris hit a hard ground ball single to CF (sending Donaldson to third), Tom Lawless opted to relieve with Chad Qualls, despite the fact that a lefty was next up, and despite Qualls' poor record against the A's this year.

Qualls was... um... not good.  Josh Reddick mashed a long fly ball to CF on his second pitch, and both runners scored.  The ball landed just over the head of Dexter Fowler, who never seemed to get a good read on the ball, but he was at the wall in enough time, and the ball bounced off the wall just to his left (I think the wind hit it quite hard late in the flight).  Reddick only missed a home run by a foot or two, prolonging Qualls' agony by doing so.  Given his defensive difficulties over the last week or two, and given his relatively unenthusiastic fielding ratings, I would have to wonder whether Marisnick or Presley might make that play, and if they did, it would have been a sac-fly, with one runner scoring, two outs, but a man still on first.

Anyhow, Reddick pulled into second base, showed everyone his bicep pose for some odd reason, and scored on a Jed Lowrie (him! again!!) single just out of the reach of a diving Villar, who was shaded toward the second base bag just a touch.  Reddick scored easily, as Presley narrowly avoided throwing a lawn dart, and the ball arrived at the plate in a dribble.  A's win in walk-off fashion, and Chad Qualls' misery against them continues.  Qualls has lost five games this year, and four of those losses are to Oakland.

At the Plate:
The only baserunner that Scott Kazmir allowed through the first five innings was Chris Carter (1-2, 2BB, SB), who worked a lead-off walk in the second.  However, Kazmir ran into trouble in the sixth, when Carlos Corporan (1-4) led off with a single which he dumped into left field.  Villar (1-2, 2BB, SB) tried to bunt him over to second, but popped it up a little, with the ball landing softly a foot or two inside the third base line.  Josh Donaldson chose to try to field the bunt, but he had no chance of throwing out Villar, and the spin seemed to be taking the ball toward the foul line.  Donaldson probably should have let the ball roll, with the home that it went foul, but instead Villar reached, and Corporan went to second.  Grossman (0-2, RBI) tried the same trick, but this time Donaldson threw him out, and the Astros had runners on second and third with one out, with Altuve at the dish.  Altuve  (1-4, 2B) did what Altuve does, and he took a high-inside fastball, and grounding it just over the third-base bag to score both runners with a 2 RBI double.  Altuve then advanced to third on a Fowler (0-4) fly out, Carter was intentionally walked (and stole second!), but Matt Dominguez (0-4, 3K) struck out looking on a very dubious looking high off-speed pitch.  The ump called the high-strike fairly erratically all day and this one did not go in Matty D's favour.

The Astros scored another run in the seventh, and narrowly missed putting the game away.  Marisnick (0-2, BB) walked to open the frame, then stole second.  Guzman (0-3, BB) followed with a walk, then Carlos Corporan tried to bunt them over, but popped the bunt up to the catcher (great play by Norris to make that catch).  Note to Tom Lawless - don't try to play small-ball with Carlos Corporan at the dish.  The bases were then loaded, advancing the runners in the process, on Villar's second walk of the game - the first of two good plate appearances from Villar - and Robbie Grossman tried to ambush Kazmir on a first-pitch fastball, driving it deep to right field.  Reddick backed up one step shy of the wall to make the catch, and Marisnick scored easily from third.  A little bit more, and Grossman would have had an unlikely Grand Slam.  Altuve ended the threat by bouncing out to short.

The only other Astros baserunner was Jonathan Villar, who walked again in the ninth with two outs.  He promptly stole second, but Presley (0-1) grounded out to end the offensive threat for the Astros.

Turning Point:
I wondered whether the ninth inning events were set in motion by an excellent defensive play by Alex Presley to end the eighth.  Presley raced in to shallow left to make a great sliding play to end the eighth on a Brandon Moss fly-ball.  If Presley hadn't made that catch, Feldman would have either (i) expended 4 or so more pitches on Donaldson, possibly ending his night for pitch-count reasons or (ii) been replaced by Josh Fields, who was warming up at the time.  In my alternative-dimension-fantasy-universe, Fields would strike out Donaldson on three straight 110mph fastballs with wicked movement, then stay on to finish the ninth and done so on nine pitches, all swinging strikes.  Qualls would never have pitched, the Astros would have won, and I would be dating some famous actress or model who would be totally besotted with me.

But that didn't happen, thanks to Presley's sliding play.

Man of the Match:
The pitching staff combined to blow the game in the ninth, and there were no real outstanding offensive performers, so we have to go with Chris Carter and Jonathan Villar, who both went 1-2, 2BB, SB.  Earlier in the season, if Carter and Villar had identical batting lines, it probably would have been something like 0-4, 3K, but not today.  A weak MoTM, but the best performers nevertheless.

Goat of the Game:
Either Alex Presley, for the reasons outlined above, or Chad Qualls, for obvious reasons.

On the Morrow:
Despite today's loss, the Astros still get a rubber game at O.Co tomorrow.

Dallas Keuchel (10-9, 3.03) versus Jason Hammel (10-10, 3.58)

4 Eastern, 3 Central.