The disappointment of the Oakland A’s not getting the brooms out on Wednesday to sweep the series over the Seattle Mariners quickly went away.
You can’t be unhappy at a series like that. It was two good teams coming together to play three close games (Game One being closer than the A’s would have liked).
Game Three on Wednesday was the UK-friendly day-game and everyone, including the home plate umpire, took MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s ‘pace of play’ mantra to heart in the get-away game before an off-day. They got through the nine innings in two hours, with the full twelve innings taking 3hrs 13 mins.
I had moved from watching on MLBTV to listening via the MLB At Bat when Matt Olson nearly won the game in the tenth inning. Zach Duke was brought in by Scott Servais to get a lefty-on-lefty match-up, but Olson drove a pitch deep to the outfield that had commentator Vince Controneo excited before it fell just short of clearing the outfield wall. Moments like that always seem even more exciting listening to radio commentary, blind to the footage and just waiting to hear what the outcome may be.
Olson’s double didn’t lead to the score-less tie being ended, just as the promise of Nick Martini’s lead-off triple in the fourth inning came to nothing. It felt like a big missed opportunity at the time given the way both starting pitchers – Mike Leake and Brett Anderson – were pitching, and so it proved.
It did at least give Dallas Braden the opportunity to revel in his use of the nickname ‘Dirty Martini’ for a little while, which always makes me laugh.
Winning the series 2-1 felt all the better given the way the Mariners had swept four-games against the Houston Astros coming into it. I can’t see anything other than this Wild Card race going deep into September, possibly even the AL West division race too, yet every chance the A’s have to stop the momentum of one of their challengers is one worth taking.
The two victories were satisfying yet nervy in their own ways. Game Two was close throughout and, following James Paxton’s early exit, put us face-to-face with the old foe King Felix, who has thwarted our ambitions many times in the past. The King is not so regal now having been punted to the ‘pen, yet he showed some of his old touch in giving the Mariners 5.2 good emergency innings. Whatever shape Felix Hernandez is in, getting the better of him can’t help but taste sweet given the punishment he’s dished out over the years.
Game One looked like being a cakewalk, with Sean Manaea in excellent form, before the bullpen came unstuck and almost coughed up a 7-1 lead. I noted in the previous blog the risk of relying too heavily on the relief corps and I suspect it was no coincidence that this near-blow-up came a day after we needed six relievers to get past the Angels on Sunday.
Bob Melvin will be well aware of the challenge he has coming up in managing the pitching staff as the A’s are due to play 20 games in 20 days after the Thursday off-day. We’re going to need the starting pitchers to give us more innings, as they did in the Seattle series, so that the bullpen has a chance to be as effective as it has been to this point.
Fans in focus
The victory in Game One was partly overshadowed by criticism of the attendance, an admittedly sparse 10,400. As we wait for positive news on a new A’s ballpark, the familiar questions on whether a new stadium will lead to a long-term attendance boost in Oakland were raised again.
The way the A’s are playing this season, alongside all of the positive steps being made to reconnect with fans, do make the small crowds (Games Two and Three were slightly-more respectable 17,000) a real shame for the team and Front Office; however it shouldn’t be overlooked what damage has been caused to the casual fanbase by years of seeing popular players leave and the previous direction of casting admiring glances at other locations (particularly Fremont and San Jose).
After years of not being cared about, it’s going to take a while for the current A’s to win back the casual ticket-buyers that make all the difference to the attendance figures. What we’ve seen out of Dave Kaval and co over the past year and half makes me optimistic that they’ll be able to pull it off.
Here’s my Seattle series sheet.
After one big series against AL West rivals, it’s on to another with the Houston Astros. Friday’s game is a night-game, but both Saturday and Sunday’s games are 21.05 BST starts, so a great time to watch from the UK.