Few in the Bay Area questioned Bob Melvin’s decision to turn the winner-take-all Wild Card Game into an all-out bullpen day. How could anyone oppose it? The A’s starting staff had been their most glaring weakness, and the team’s loaded bullpen posted the third-best ERA in the major leagues in 2018.
Unfortunately for Melvin and the A’s, the parity of a one-game playoff reared its ugly head, and the team’s feel-good season came to an abrupt end in the Bronx as the Yankees rode a 7-2 win to an ALDS berth.
The A’s return to Oakland still searching for their first postseason win since 2013. Their last victory in a winner-take-all postseason game was game seven of the 1973 World Series.
Liam Hendriks, who had tossed 11 ⅓ straight scoreless innings to end the regular season, put the A’s in an immediate hole thanks to a two-run homer off the bat of Aaron Judge. Fernando Rodney, acquired midseason to bolster an already impressive pen, failed to record an out in the sixth. Blake Treinen, off the heels of one of the greatest seasons a closer has ever had, surrendered a two run triple to Luke Voit to put the game out of reach for good.
“Those first two came back to bite us,” Hendriks said of his first inning struggle. “I think I was just flying open. My front side was betraying me…I missed my spot, but it was on the black inside to Judge, and he put a good swing on it. That’s what he does.”
It was a most uncharacteristic showing for the A’s pen, at a time when Melvin needed a most status quo showing.
“They got off to a good start with the home run and they ended up adding on,” Melvin said. “When you’re away and the crowd gets into it, that’s more that you have to overcome.”
Yankees’ starter Luis Severino bent, but wouldn’t break through four hitless innings. The A’s worked seven full counts against the righty and had a chance to break out in the top of the fourth after an error and two walks loaded the bases for Marcus Semien, but Severino reared back and blew a 99.6 mph heater past Semien to end the threat.
“He made those big pitches when he needed to,” Matt Chapman said of Severino’s performance. “When we were fouling off pitches and battling, getting to 3-2, we had him on the ropes a little bit but he was able to make a big bitch. That’s a credit to him and the kind of pitcher he is. He pitched his butt off.”
Another spoiled opportunity came in the fifth when the A’s finally got in the hit column courtesy of back-to-back singles from Jonathan Lucroy and Nick Martini. With the heart of the order looming, and the Yanks going to the bullpen, the A’s were primed to break through, but the Yanks held the fort again, as Dellin Betances retired three straight, including a strikeout of Khris Davis to squander the rally.
The A’s desperately tried to keep the Yanks within arms reach, but began to slip away in the sixth when Fernando Rodney allowed a leadoff double to Judge, a high bouncer that snuck down the first base line. Aaron Hicks followed with a RBI single, advancing to second on an error in the outfield, as the ball scooted past rookie Ramon Laureano. Treinen entered to face Giancarlo Stanton, but walked the Yankee DH after allowing just one free pass in his last 16 appearances. That set the table for Voit, who missed a homer by inches, but set Yankee Stadium in a frenzy nonetheless, as the crowd broke out into a “we want Boston” chant as the home team pulled away with a 5-0 lead.
“That’s who we wanted on the mound no matter what,” Chapman said of Treinen’s rare hiccup. “It’s just the way it goes sometimes…unfortunately, that’s just baseball.”
Lou Trivino did his best to keep the A’s in position to make a comeback by hurling three scoreless frames, but the offense squandered every opportunity, leaving nine runners on base.
Davis, the league’s leading home run hitter in 2018, got the A’s on the board in garbage time with a two-run homer in the eighth, his first career postseason dinger. Stanton, last year’s home run leader, promptly responded with a 443-foot moonshot homer in the bottom half of the inning, denying the A’s any taste of a late comeback.
“We just didn’t do enough offensively tonight,” Melvin said. “You have to give them credit. They pitched really well.”
-By Ryan Chichester, Special to the S.F. Examiner