OAKLAND — Coming off a 3-4 road trip against a pair of first-place teams in Minnesota and Houston, with their energy sapped by five games decided by two runs or fewer, the Oakland Athletics looked decidedly drained on Thursday.
“It took something out of us,” Melvin said before the A’s series opener against the Texas Rangers.
The last four days took even more out of starter Brett Anderson, who’s hardly slept after the birth of his son Brody. For the first four innings on Thursday, though, he looked sharp, until a five-run fifth paved the way for an 11-3 loss to the middling Rangers, breaking a six-game home winning streak for the A’s and cutting their lead in the second AL wild card to half a game.
“After going through what he went through, he skated through pretty quickly, then they put some really good at-bats together and it happened pretty quickly,” said manager Bob Melvin.
Fresh off the paternity list, Anderson worked both sides of the plate, changed speeds and mixed his pitches well, keeping the Rangers off-balance enough that they only fouled off 12 balls in the first four innings. Catching little sleep over the last three days, feeding his newborn and changing diapers every three to four hours, he hadn’t even played catch since Sunday.
The rust caught up with him in a 24-pitch fifth inning after throwing just 55 in the previous four.
“I didn’t run out of gas,” Anderson said. “I just couldn’t finish them off. Too many strikes in the middle of the plate. It was kind of death by a thousands cuts.”
Anderson allowed three straight hits to lead off the inning, including an RBI single by Delino DeShields Jr., before allowing a one-out, bases-loaded double just inside the first base line by Danny Santana.
A sacrifice fly by Elvis Andrus chased Anderson and put Texas up 4-3, and reliever Yusmeiro Petit allowed an RBI single off the second base bag by Hunter Pence to close the book on Anderson. Reliever Lou Trivino — who had posted a 2.53 ERA over his last 10 appearances — loaded the bases on a hit batter, a walk and a bunt over his head by DeShields, and then exited due to illness. Reliever Wei-Chung Wang allowed an RBI single and a first-pitch Santana grand slam to put the game out of reach.
Coming into Thursday, the A’s had the second-best record in baseball since May 16 (39-20), but the seven-game road trip was horrid: Oakland hit .223, starters went 1-2 with a 6.69 ERA, and the pitching staff as a whole allowed a .273 opponents batting average, walking 29 men in 61 2/3 innings.
Oakland looked to find some of its old mojo in a three-run first, getting a one-out, bases-loaded, two-run single by the A’s hottest hitter, Ramon Laureano — his 27th hit in his last 66 July at-bats — and a 107-mph sacrifice fly to the base of the right field wall by Khris Davis.
Three of the first five balls Oakland put in play came out at 100 mph or faster, but then, they just stopped hitting, as Texas starter Ariel Jurado — who came in with a 4.92 ERA — allowed just one hit over the next four innings. At one point, the A’s went 15 up, 15 down with a one-out, second-inning single by Josh Phegley erased as he tried to steal second. Jurado allowed three hits, three earned runs and struck out six on 108 pitches, including 73 strikes over seven innings. Only two Oakland hitters reached base after the first inning.
“Usually, when we get off to a good start like that, it ends up being a good game for us,” Melvin said. “It just had that feeling early on. We scored some runs, and if we do that, we can be pretty relentless. He started to get the ball down a little more. Got some high strikes. Got some low strikes. Settled in.”
The bullpen — which has already surpassed its blown saves total from all of last season — has been particularly bad over the last eight games, exacerbating the offense’s struggles.
Since the start of the road trip against the AL Central-leading (and powerful) Twins, Oakland’s relievers have a 4.85 ERA — a full run worse than their season mark, which still ranks sixth in baseball. The club’s need for another experienced bullpen arm and another, fresh starting arm appears all the more stark.
Anderson, though, took a different perspective.
“Under different circumstances, I may be a little more upset,” Anderson said. “But, I can’t be too upset. I just had a kid, and a wife and kid who’s healthy. Obviously, you’d like to win a ballgame and pitch better and give your team a chance, but at the end of the day, things change when you have a kid, and 31 years of living, breathing, dying with baseball kind of goes out the window now … I wouldn’t change it for the world.”