OAKLAND — It’s become a running theme for the Oakland A’s this year. They take a lead into the late innings, and then, regardless of who they hand the ball to or who the opponent is, the bullpen finds a way to cough it up.
On Friday it happened again, this time against a Detroit Tigers team with the worst record in the majors.
The A’s suffered their MLB-leading 28th blown save of the season, falling 5-4 to the Tigers in 11 innings, on a night when Detroit’s bullpen blanked Oakland’s lineup for nine straight frames. The meltdown wasted another quality start by Homer Bailey, and overshadowed the return of center fielder Ramon Laureano from the injured list.
The loss also squandered a chance for Oakland to gain ground in the tight wild card race, with what could have been the A’s second win of the day after wrapping up the victory in the resumption of a suspended game from May.
“You do the best you can with what you have on a particular day,” said manager Bob Melvin. “We’re down a couple guys today, and we just used the guys that are available.”
The big runs came in the eighth inning, against Jake Diekman and Lou Trivino. Nursing a two-run lead, Diekman retired the first two batters but then loaded the bases on a single, a double and a hit batsman. Trivino then came in and induced a grounder from Tigers third baseman Dawel Lugo, but it found a hole to drive in two and tie the score.
“It’s a ground ball to the right side, wasn’t even hit hard,” said Melvin. “[Trivino] makes a good pitch, and sometimes you just get a little unlucky.”
The blown save was Trivino’s fifth of the season, tying him with three other pitchers for the A’s team lead. His ERA stands at 5.43, two and a half runs higher than last season.
“It was very unfortunate,” said Trivino of the game-tying hit. “I hit a spot and tried to go two-seam in and I got in on him. It just went to a spot where the second baseman wasn’t.”
Diekman has also struggled since being acquired from Kansas City in July. In 14 1/3 innings of work, he’s handed out 14 free bases (11 walks, 3 hit batsmen), to go with 11 hits, nine earned runs and a 5.65 ERA.
After Detroit tied it up, the teams remained knotted until the 11th, when the Tigers found the plate once more against Paul Blackburn. Making his first appearance in the majors since June and just his second of the season, the starter-turned-long-reliever allowed a leadoff single to Lugo and then an RBI double to ninth-place hitter Willi Castro, who entered the at-bat with a .184 batting average and a .440 OPS.
The bullpen wasn’t the only culprit in the A’s loss, though. Oakland scored four runs in the second inning to knock out starter Spencer Turnbull, but then seven Tigers relievers combined for 9 1/3 shutout innings, allowing just two hits and four walks while racking up 13 strikeouts.
“We just didn’t have the type of at-bats that we normally do,” said Melvin.
The only A’s hitter who could consistently find answers against the Tigers’ staff was second baseman Jurickson Profar, who collected three of the team’s six hits on the evening. Laureano, playing for the first time since late July after missing over a month to a stress reaction in his leg, got plugged in the ribs by a pitch in his first plate appearance and then went 0-for-4.
One bright spot for Oakland was starting pitcher Homer Bailey, who pitched into the seventh inning. He cruised through the first six frames, facing just two batters over the minimum and preventing the Tigers from getting any runners as far as second base, but in the seventh, he finally blinked and allowed a leadoff walk followed by a two-run homer to Christin Stewart.
“Good fastball, split maybe not great early but got better as it went along, but competed hard,” said Melvin. “He’s out there in the seventh inning for us, on a day that we needed him to be out there. He pitched well, left with a lead.”
Bailey’s effort was particularly helpful given the A’s shorthanded bullpen. Setup man Yusmeiro Petit is away from the team tending to the passing of his father, Blake Treinen is out with a back issue and rookie A.J. Puk was unavailable after pitching Thursday. On top of that, Diekman, Liam Hendriks, and newly recalled J.B. Wendelken all pitched earlier in the day to finish off the suspended game, though all three of them appeared again in the nightcap.
Oakland now stands at 82-59 this season. With a win they could have moved into a tie with the Tampa Bay Rays for the top Wild Card spot, but instead they remain one game back, and a half-game ahead of the Cleveland Indians for the second Wild Card.
“I’m feeling good so I just have to stay positive,” said Trivino after the frustrating loss. “Just praying for better outcomes.”