By Matt Doan
Special to S.F. Examiner
ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Oakland Athletics’ last and most pivotal road trip of the regular season began with a sputter as the A’s dropped Tuesday’s contest to the Angels, 3-2.
Along with the ignominy of losing to an Angels team bereft of most of its major stars, the loss — combined with wins by the Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians — drew the American League wild card race even tighter. Oakland now sits just half a game ahead of both the Rays and a game ahead of the Indians for the first wild card slot.
“It has always been tight and it will continue to be tight,” said manager Bob Melvin. “It is going down right to the end.”
The A’s, with another game against Los Angeles and three more against the last-place Seattle Mariners, would seem to have an easier route to the postseason than either of the other two contenders. The Rays face the already-clinched Yankees and the dangerous Blue Jays, armed with their trio of second-generation stars. The Indians face the White Sox (68-88) and the National League wild card Nationals.
Khris Davis — fighting a slump for most of the season — got the A’s on the board in the fourth inning with a two-out, two-run home run to left center, his twenty third of the season, to give the A’s an early 2-0 lead. Davis’ home run was set up by Ramon Laureano’s hustle infield single with two outs, which extended the inning.
The Angels lineup, missing MVP candidate Mike Trout and a host of regulars due to season-ending injuries, proved pesky against A’s starter Homer Bailey (13-9), who came into the game with a personal four-game winning streak. Bailey escaped damage through four innings, scattering four hits but not allowing any runs, but in the fifth, the Angels got back-to-back singles from Taylor Ward and Matt Theiss to lead off the inning.
After a strikeout of Kaleb Cowart, Bailey allowed an RBI single to David Fletcher and a bloop RBI double to left off the bat of Brian Goodwin to even the score at 2-2. Albert Pujols stepped up next and slugged an RBI Sac Fly to left to give the Angels a 3-2 lead after five innings.
The bullpens took over in the sixth inning with the A’s going to rookie phenom, Jesus Luzardo.
Luzardo allowed a lead-off double to Angels catcher Kevan Smith in the sixth inning but then retired the next three hitters (two via strikeout) to keep the A’s in the game.
There has been some speculation that Luzardo would be used for multiple innings down the stretch but it appears that strategy is changing.
“It just depends,” Melvin said. “If I use him for only one inning, I can pitch him again sooner. We are going to try and use him as much as possible (in these last five games).”
Oakland right-hander Yusmeiro Petit came on for the A’s in the seventh and, like Luzardo the inning before, allowed a lead-off double. After a flyout moved the runner to third and a walk, Petit faced off against the perennial run producer, Pujols. Petit won the battle tonight, striking him out on a 2-2 curveball. Bob Melvin then went to the bullpen for the lefty-lefty matchup, bringing in Jake Diekman to face Kole Calhoun. Diekman continued the evening’s clutch pitching for the A’s bullpen, striking out Kole Calhoun to end the Angels threat.
Unfortunately the Oakland offense couldn’t get much going against the Angels relief corps as Noe Ramirez, Adalberto Mejía and Ty Buttrey retired the A’s in order in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.
“It was a tough day for us offensively,” Melvin said. “We have been used to jumping out early offensively. You have to give Dillion Peters a lot of credit, he threw a lot of changeups and pitched backwards in counts.”
In the ninth inning, the A’s faced off against one of the hottest pitchers in baseball in Angels closer Hansel Robles, who came into tonight with a 1.19 ERA since June 1 — the best in the American League.
Mark Canha led off with a first-pitch check swing that dribbled past the mound for an infield single to start the inning. Laureano stepped up next and, after falling behind 0-2, bounced into a double play. Davis — who had just missed a second homer run in the sixth inning — struck out to end the game.
Bob Melvin announced before the game that relievers Lou Trivino (cracked rib) and Blake Treinen (back/hip) will be shut down for the rest of the regular season/postseason.
Frankie Montas will return from his 80-game suspension to start Wednesday’s game from Anaheim. He will be followed by Sean Manaea (Thurs.); Mike Fiers (Fri.); Brett Anderson (Sat.) and Tanner Roark (Sun) to conclude the regular season.