`No Pessimism' for Athletics, Luzardo After White Sox Take Opener 4-1

Two early homers off Jesús Luzardo do in the Athletics, who only get three hits, none of them until the seventh inning as the Oakland wild card hopes come down to a win on Wednesday, or else. Manager Bob Melvin says it's time for the offense to finally step up.

There are relatively low-scoring games that are edge-of-the-seat teeth-grinders, and there are relatively low-scoring games that are just not particularly competitive.

You can file Chicago’s 4-1 win over Oakland in Game 1 of the wild card, although the A’s actually did bring the tying run to the plate in the eighth inning.

Before that, though, the White Sox got homers from Adam Engel in the second and José Abreu in the third to build up a quick 3-0 lead, and that was the essence of this one.

The A’s didn’t get their first hit off White Sox starter Lucas Giolito until the seventh inning. And after Tommy La Stella singled to open the seventh, the A’s bats went right back in the deep freeze.

So now the A’s are up against it once again in the playoffs. They either win Wednesday’s noon game at the Coliseum against the White Sox, or the season is over. And history, in the form of wild card games, isn’t pretty. Oakland has now lost its last four wild card games.

Because of a change of baseball rules in the time of pandemic, Tuesday’s was the first-ever wild card game that wasn’t one-and done. For the A’s, Wednesday’s will be exactly that in this best-of-three format.

Coming into the game, the White Sox’s Tim Anderson questioned why any left-hander would start against the Sox, Chicago having gone 14-0 against left-handed starters this season.

He suggested the A’s “hadn’t done their homework.”

And while the A’s suggested that Jesús Luzardo wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill lefty, the White Sox did what they could to live up to their numbers.

Unfortunately for the A’s, Luzardo gave them a boost. In the second inning, he had right fielder Adam Engel facing an 0-2 count, but left a pitch up that Engle, in his first career postseason at-bat, lofted over the left field wall.

An inning later, with Anderson on base after the second of his two hits off Luzardo, Major League RBI leader José Abreu was up. The count got to 2-0, at which point it might have been a good idea to walk the man with 60 RBI in 60 games and instead face catcher James McCann, whose numbers – seven homers, 15 RBI – were less a threat.

Luzardo didn’t and Abreu, who was second in MLB with 19 homers, hammered the pitch into the left field seats for a 3-0 lead.

So much for the homework. Luzardo admitted the Sox hit two mistake pitches. And then it was time to move on.

“I know there’s a lot of pessimism going around, but not in this clubhouse,” Luzardo said. “Whatever is said negatively about our team, we don’t let that get in our head. Bassitt is going to dominate tomorrow and our hitters are going to hit. We’ll go to Game 3 and see what happens.”

Luzardo’s confidence in the offense notwithstanding, nothing the A’s did against Giolito suggested they were ready to break out of their funk. Wednesday they draw lefty Dallas Keuchel, a former Cy Young winner who has been up-and-down against Oakland, a 6-6 record and a 3.06 ERA.

And as Melvin said, “we’ve got no choice tomorrow.”

“It’s time for us to respond tomorrow. We can’t score one run and think that we’re going to win,” Melvin said. “We have pretty good numbers (against) left-handed pitching.”

Not that it made much difference. The A’s offense, which hit just .208 in the final dozen games of the season, found a way to take it down a notch against Giolito.

The right-hander set the first 18 batters he faced down in order. There were some balls hit hard, and he needed the help of a sliding catcher from left fielder Leury Garcia in the fourth, but for seven innings, Giolito never looked as if he wasn’t in complete command.

There wasn’t much chicanery to what Giolito was doing. He went mostly with four-seam fastballs that ranged from 93-95 mph, missed in a few sliders and changeups and basically dared the A’s to hit him. The did make some solid contact, but nothing that wasn’t easily catchable through the first six innings.

The seventh was a little different. Tommy La Stella hit a changeup back up the middle past Giolito and into center for a hit and the A’s first base runner. Giolito kept on his game, got 0-2 against both Robbie Grossman and Marcus Semien. Grossman struck out swinging at a four-seamer on 3-2 pitch and Semien worked the count full as well before also going down hacking at a four-seamers. Matt Olson fouled out, as the A’s went back into their offensive funk.

Giolito walked Mark Canha to open the eighth, by which time a Yasmani Grandal homer had pushed the Sox’s lead to 4-0. After a meeting on the mound, Jake Lamb singled, sending Canha to third base, and that was it for Giolito. Reliever Evan Marshall induced a grounder from Ramón Laureano as the A’s scored a run.

Sean Murphy singled to get the tying run to the plate with two out, forcing lefty reliever Aaron Bummer in against La Stella, who represented the tying run. He grounded out.

“I think we’re comfortable where we’re at,” La Stella said, pointing out that the A’s had a high number of well-hit outs. “Obviously we’d like to see more. I wouldn’t say we need to change anything. I think we swung the bats fine today. It’s a game of probabilities, and we were on the wrong side today.”

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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