Ramon Laureano takes a swing at the Oakland Coliseum on March 31, 2019 in Oakland, California against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. (Chris Victorio | Special to S.F. Examiner)

Oakland A’s pitching streak ends thanks to defensive misadventures

Bad throw by Profar, bad hop to Chapman doom A’s and halt winning streak against Red Sox

OAKLAND — It took three games, but the Boston Red Sox finally scored some runs against the Oakland Athletics pitching staff.

The reigning World Series champions finally broke through after 22 scoreless innings against A’s pitchers, and then they added some more thanks to uncharacteristically sloppy Oakland defense in the sixth and an enormously fortunate hop in the ninth.

Wednesday’s 6-3 loss for the A’s snapped a four-game winning streak for the green and gold, and broke a run of six straight games in which Oakland pitchers had gone at least six innings and allowed one run or fewer. It happened because of several defensive misadventures — a rarity given the team’s stout defensive reputation.

The score was tied 3-3 to begin the ninth inning, when a simple bad hop cost the A’s. With two on and two out against reliever Fernando Rodney, American League MVP Mookie Betts sent a grounder down the third-base line. It wasn’t hit particularly hard and Platinum Glove winner Matt Chapman was lined up to field it, but the ball hit the bag and jumped up far over Chapman, into no-man’s land in shallow left field. Two runs scored, and Betts soon came around himself on a triple by Andrew Benintendi.

“It’s a ground ball to third, Chappy’s right there, he’s gonna get him,” said manager Bob Melvin. “It just unfortunately hits the base and ends up being two runs. Rodney really did make a good pitch, it was a changeup down, weak contact, just ends up hitting the bag unfortunately. It’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Boston’s first run of the series earlier in the game came from a relatively unlikely source in their star-studded lineup. In the fifth inning, with A’s starter Marco Estrada staked to a 3-0 lead and having retired 14 of his first 16 batters, catcher and eighth-place hitter Blake Swihart launched a solo homer to center.

Despite that blemish, Estrada looked like he would continue the rotation’s streak of sparkling six-inning starts, but his defense failed him. With a runner on first and one out in the sixth, he induced a grounder that looked like a tailor-made inning-ending double play. However, second baseman Jurickson Profar threw the ball away, leaving both runners safe and extending the frame.

“I didn’t have a good grip on that one,” said Profar. “I think I had more time to grab the ball good and make a good throw, and we turn that double play and I think we would have had a good chance to win the game.”

The Red Sox didn’t squander their second chance in the inning. Lefty reliever Ryan Buchter came in to face Mitch Moreland, and the latter laced a double into the corner to plate two runs and tie the game, marking Buchter’s second blown save of the season already. It could have gotten even worse, but Chapman made a vintage Platinum Glove play diving to his left to rob what would have been another RBI single.

While Profar’s error was costly, Estrada was more disappointed with himself for not overcoming it. The right-hander stayed in to face slugger J.D. Martinez but lost him to a five-pitch walk, loading the bases and prompting the ill-fated switch to Buchter.

“What was frustrating for me is I didn’t pick my guy up,” said Estrada. “I was upset about that. Usually when stuff like that happens, I put it in my head, hey, let’s pick him up, make better pitches, and get the next guy. But I didn’t do it, so that’s what I was frustrated about.”

Melvin, on the other hand, had nothing but praise for his starter. “I’ll tell you what, Estrada pitched good. For a guy that’s a flyball pitcher, we’ve seen him, when he needs to get a groundball he kinda knows what he’s doing. Got a groundball there obviously [in the sixth], it just got away from us.”

Despite losing their streak of six consecutive starts of exactly six innings with one run or fewer, the rotation still boasts a line of just three earned runs in 41.1 innings over the last seven games. That comes out to a 0.65 ERA over that span. The pitching staff as a whole had gone 25 straight scoreless innings, dating back to their series finale against the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday.

For the first half of the game, the A’s had been cruising behind an early lead. With the bases loaded and one out in the second inning, catcher Nick Hundley drilled a liner toward third baseman Rafael Devers, and while Devers got a glove on it, he couldn’t quite squeeze it. He still had a chance to force out the runner at the plate, but his throw home came up short and Oakland tallied its first run. It was Hundley’s first RBI since joining the A’s this offseason.

Oakland added to the lead in the fourth, when Ramon Laureano, who didn’t get any opportunities to throw out more baserunners from center field like he had in the previous two games, blasted a mammoth, 438-foot, two-run homer. Of the A’s 34 runs so far this season, 21 of them have come via the long ball.

Laureano nearly struck again in eighth, but with his speed instead of his power. With a runner on third and two out in a 3-3 tie, he pulled a grounder into the hole between shortstop and third base, and then beat the throw to first to allow the runner to score. However, the call was overturned on replay for the third out of the inning, and the go-ahead run was taken off the board.

The end result didn’t go the A’s way on Wednesday, but there was plenty to be proud about in this game. The rotation delivered another strong effort, the lineup chased another big-name Boston starter relatively early, Chapman made his customary superb play on defense, and the winning runs scored on a total fluke hop. Oakland won’t win out, but if the A’s losses look like this, they have a chance to win a lot more than most outside projections.

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