The Oakland A’s, who manipulated late-inning offense and late-inning pitching into the best record in the American League West Division in 2020, got bounced from the AL Division Series Thursday because they couldn’t locate either of those elements of their game when the most needed to.
Add to that the starting pitching, which had been reasonably impactful but not dominant in the regular season, imploded once again with Frankie Montas squandering an early 3-0 lead.
The final blow was an 11-6 loss in Game 4 Thursday in Dodger Stadium at the hands of the Houston Astros. For the fourth time in four days, the Astros spotted the A’s a lead. For the fourth time in four days, the Astros came back to jump in front. And for the third time in four days, the Astros held the A’s off down the stretch.
“In the end, they just kind of outslugged us,” A’s outfielder Mark Canha said. “This is a failure. We wanted to win the World Series. Anything short of that is falling short of our goal. But every failure as a competitor is an opportunity.”
Canha said he took the opportunity after the game to go through the clubhouse and talk to as many of his disappointed teammates as possible.
“Those opportunities are valuable to learn,” he said. “That’s the kind of message I was trying to tell everyone in the clubhouse. Just learn. Learn from this and just don’t go down in the dumps. You have to take these failures and learn from them. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my career, it that this is an opportunity to get better.”
For the sixth time in nine years the A’s have made the postseason, but they haven’t made it past the ALDS since the 2006 season, a decade and a half ago. The was a season, pre-COVD-19 the A’s had been pointing toward as their best chance in more than a decade to get deep into the postseason.
But now, with shortstop Marcus Semien, outfielder Robbie Grossman and relievers Joakim Soria, Yusmeiro Petit and closer Liam Hendriks all among the A’s dozen potential free agents, the team Oakland fields in 2021 is likely to look much different.
Semien, the Berkeley-raised shortstop whose RBI single in the ninth inning might stand as his final at-bat with the A’s as free agency looms, said he’d thought about that potentiality when the A’s were down to elimination in the wild card series last week, revisited those thoughts Thursday.
“I’m pretty logistical; I understand what’s going with everything,” Semien said. “I took the field in the bottom of the eighth and like `Is this my last time playing shortstop for this team?’ I don’t know. This is new to me. I haven’t taken that much time to think about all that stuff, but that was pretty much what I was thinking in the bottom of the eighth.”
Semien had two hits, but it seemed like he’d gotten a third. With the A’s down 9-4 and two out in the seventh, it seemed as if he’d hit a three-run homer. Every other fly ball in the four-game series in which both teams hit a record 12 homers seemed to carry out.
This one was somehow caught up against the wall by Kyle Tucker.
“I’m shocked that Marcus’ ball didn’t go out,” manager Bob Melvin said. “That’s a ball that, now all of a sudden we’re withing two.”
Ramón Laureano, who hit a three-run homer and a solo shot to account for the A’s first four runs, was sure Semien’s ball was going out.
“Every fly ball carries here,” he said. “It just didn’t go our way. He hit it good – launch angle, good exit velo. I would have been gone anywhere but in that moment.”
Laureano, whose pep talk Wednesday led to a Game 3 win, got Game 4 started against Astros starter Zack Greinke with a three-run homer in the second. The A’s had a chance to add to that when Matt Olson hammered what he thought was a solo shot in the top of the fourth, but former Oakland outfielder Josh Reddick made a homer-saving catch above the low wall in the right field corner, blunting the A’s momentum.
Melvin said he didn’t see that as a momentum shift, but from the point of the catch, the Astros would outscore the A’s 11-3.
Oakland starter Frankie Montas, who’d allowed just one hit in the first three innings in part because he was spotting his curve where he wanted it in the strike zone, lost command of the curve, and of the game, in the fourth. The result was a five-run inning on a two-run homer by Michael Brantley and a three-run blast by Carlos Correa.
“Frankie was pitching really well at first, good velo, good breaking ball,” Melvin said. “And then all of a sudden the big inning derailed it. And we couldn’t hold them down after that.”
It was part of a pattern. No A’s starter made it through the fifth innings, they combined to give up 16 runs and each of the four – Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea and Jesús Luzardo before Montas – allowed two homers.
Laureano would homer again as the A’s got close a 5-4 in the top of the fifth, but the Oakland bullpen gave up two runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth. And two more again in the seventh.
Melvin, who’d hurt his foot pregame and didn’t want to be limping too and from the mound, sent pitching coach Scott Emerson out to make the pitching changes, something his almost never does, and Emerson would be out there as the A’s cycled through J.B. Wendelken, Mike Minor. Lou Trivino, Jake Diekman and T.J. McFarland.
Brantley would homer in the fifth and Correa added RBI hits in both the fifth and sixth to keep the foot on the accelerator. Jose Altuve would add a two-run bomb in the seventh as the Astros could smell a return to the ALCS.
Meanwhile, the A’s wouldn’t get a hit after Laureano’s second homer until Robbie Grossman’s double in the seventh. And Oakland wouldn’t add a run until there were two out in the ninth, when Semien and Tommy La Stella singled home runs. Houston closer Ryan Pressly finally brought the Oakland season to an end by striking out Khris Davis with two men on for the third out.
Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3
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