Tanner Anderson’s parents, seated down the first base line, held their hands up to their mouths.
Hands clasped, filled with nervous energy, surrounded by family and friends wearing a mixture of A’s apparel and gear from Harvard — their son’s alma mater — the odd cluster of crimson, green and gold watched as Anderson struck out Mike Zunino after a 13-pitch battle, and then finished off walk machine Daniel Robertson on just three to end the fifth.
Anderson would finish his first big league start allowing just two runs on three hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings, striking out five — a far cry from his minor league production this season — but wouldn’t get the win. The one big blow he allowed — a two-run sixth-inning homer — knocked him out of the game, but the Oakland offense didn’t show up, and the bullpen once again made matters worse in a 6-2 loss.
“We’ll discuss,” manager Bob Melvin told reporters, when asked if Anderson earned another turn in the rotation. “The front office has some say in this. He pitched well enough to get another look. We’ll just see what kind of configuration we need.”
Anderson took a tough route to get back to his home town, flying out of Las Vegas into Arlington on Sunday with his baseball bag and the clothes on his back, making it to the park in the third inning only for Oakland’s plane to be damaged by rolling stairs, forcing an hourslong delay. It was worth it by the time he got to Tampa, his hometown, where he grew up going to games at Tropicana Field.
“It was really cool,” he said. “I told my mom to invite whoever she wanted, but not to tell me, so that I wouldn’t get all nervous.”
Last time Anderson was up in the Majors, as a reliever with Pittsburgh, nerves were an issue, as he posted an ERA over six in six appearances.
“I had them maybe an hour up to [the game],” he said. “Then, they kind of disappeared, which is good. Last year, I felt like I was going to throw up for like three days, the nerves were so bad. This year, it felt a little more familiar.”
After posting a 6.26 ERA with the Triple-A Aviators this season, Anderson looked at ease facing the Rays — who only just outdraw Las Vegas (13,801 to 9,550) this season. He threw 92 pitches (56 strikes), throwing his sinking fastball for strikes, flashing a tempting slider (three called strikes, three swinging strikes, three fouls, two put in play) and a 92-mph four-seamer to great effect.
Anderson and his opposite number, Charlie Morton, are both ground ball specialists, but there was loud contact on both sides — contact that just wound up in defenders’ gloves.
In the top of the third, Oakalnd got a one-out soft liner to right by Marcus Semien — his second hit of the day for the reigning American League Player of the Week — and a pair of walks to Matt Chapman and Matt Olson. Morton, though, used his big, sweeping curve (batters are hitting .110 in at-bats ending with the curve against him) to fan Khris Davis and got Stephen Piscotty to ground out.
Used to working in traffic after six relief appearances with Pittsburgh last season — much of his own making, with a 2.02 WHIP — Anderson worked around a leadoff single and a one-out walk in the bottom of the third to strand a pair.
Anderson would give up the ghost in the sixth, allowing a flat slider to leak out over the middle of the plate fo ra 1-0, one-out, two-run, opposite-field shot by Brandon Lowe in the bottom of the sixth, breaking a scoreless tie. After striking out Avisail Garcia on four pitches Anderson’s night was over, as Yusmeiro Petit got the final out of the frame.
In the top of the seventh, the A’s were robbed of extra bases again by the Rays outfield. Having already seen a sure Matt Chapman double off the top of the left field wall robbed by Tommy Pham to end the top of the fifth, Kevin Kiermaier did the same in the top of the seventh, this one in left center on a rocket by Jurickson Profar.
Piscotty nearly returned the favor in the bottom of the frame on a high drive off the right field wall by Yandy Diaz, but couldn’t glove it. Kiermaier then put the game out of reach with a 1-0 shot to dead center off Petit to double the lead. After giving up a one-out single, Petit was lifted for Wei-Chung Wang, who walked one, sandwiched between two strikeouts to end the frame and strand two.
The A’s — who managed just four hits, two by Semien — finally got on the board with a one-out Piscotty double in the ninth, and Piscotty rode home on a roller through the left side by Robbie Grossman, but it was too little too late.
Joakim Soria had given up a two-run homer to Ji-Man Choi in the eighth, raising the A’s bullpen ERA to 4.37 ERA (124 ER in 255 2/3 IP), a full run worse than last season.