Oakland, Episode V: Revenge of the Sixth
For five innings, this was about as nice of a ballgame as you can hope for on an April night in Oakland. Crisp, efficient—a pitchers’ dual.
A smart start
Yu Darvish came out sharp, commanded the strikezone, consistently got ahead of hitters, and was exactly what you want to see from your ace. He’d faced the minimum through five innings, courtesy of a double play after Oakland’s lone baserunner (a single in the 3rd to right). His fastball and changeup were sharp away, as was his slider. His curve was down and commanded well, giving him a “get me over” first pitch to rely on. From the top of the third through the fifth, he got ahead on 7 straight hitters, and 8 of 9 overall. He went to three balls to only one hitter—noted Ranger killer Khris Davis—and retired him both times.
He had to be sharp. Like Kendall Graveman a week ago, Oakland’s Andrew Triggs came in on a hot streak and did nothing to cool off.
A guy like Triggs is what I like to call a “slump-starter”. He doesn’t do anything exceptional, but he also doesn’t do anything normal. His arm angle is across the body. His pitches all move—he doesn’t throw a 4-seamer—and they move oddly because of that arm angle; everything dives. On this night, Triggs hammered the bottom of the strikezone.
Like Darvish, Triggs worked fast and efficiently, matching Yu almost zero for zero. He’d given up two harmless singles (to Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus in the 3rd and 4th, respectively) but hadn’t walked a man. He would strike out five on the night, getting ahead of roughly 2/3 of hitters (14 of 22), and throwing 51 of 76 pitches for strikes.
Yes, through five, it would have been a good night to be in Oakland.
The problem is, they play 9 up here in The Show. And what a sixth it was.
The Rangers stuck first. Jurickson Profar reached first leading off after an error by Yonder Alonso. Though Carlos Gomez struck out, he managed to keep the AB alive long enough for Triggs to wild-pitch Profar to second. From there, as has been the case often this season, Elvis took center stage and delivered. He lined his second hit of the night hard into center, and Profar scored easily when Jaff Decker couldn’t field it cleanly; 1-0 Rangers.
Elvis then showed why, in so many cases, speed can kill a slump and shift momentum on a dime. On a 2-1 pitch to Nomar Mazara, Andrus stole second; one strike later, he stole third. With an insurance run 90 feet away, Nomar adjusted and manufactured, grounding softly but effectively to short as Elvis scampered home.
Call it Andrus 2, Oakland 0. Yu to the hill, cruising. Things looked good.
But something about the Bay area is hard to explain; unless one has been in that heavy, damp air, with the cool coming in off the water, they’d never understand what it must have felt like to Darvish in the 6th. The game-time temperate in Oakland was around 60. By the sixth, it was probably hovering around 55 to the feel. The chill would have been considerably more than that, as the hats and jackets in the dugouts would attest.
For whatever reason, the command that exuded from Yu suddenly eluded him, and like so much fog, the game drifted into the Oakland night.
Darvish fell behind Trevor Plouffe 3-0, got a strike looking, then missed well out with ball four. Bruce Maxwell hit one of the harder balls of the night off Yu, but Profar made a play on it in left for the first out.
Darvish would not retire another A’s batter.
Former Ranger Adam Rosales got ahead 2-1, took ball 3, and waited on one of those get-me-over Darvish curves. He got one, and it was over—the left field wall, 366 feet away. The momentum shifted, and it would never shift back. Falling behind 2-0 to Decker, Darvish gave up a double, then lost a tough battle with Alonso, walking him. At that point, Rangers manager Jeff Banister had seen enough.
“It looked like he lost a little feel for the baseball,” Banister said of Darvish. “He was brilliant through five, as good as we’ve seen him this year, and it just seemed like he lost a little feel for the baseball.”
The scoring wasn’t done for Oakland in the sixth. Facing a crucial situation, Tony Barnette, reliable all year, had a rough outing. His 6-pitch walk of Jed Lowrie loaded the bases, giving him nowhere to go but in the zone to Davis. He jumped ahead 0-2, but his fourth fastball got too much of the plate, and Davis lofted it deep into center field. Gomez, who made the night’s highlight reel play on a drive to the wall in the first, ranged back to easily make the catch, but Decker came home with the go-ahead run and Alonso went to third. Ryon Healy, also a noted Rangers killer, then lobbed a hand-grenade into no-mans land into short left-center. A converging Andrus, Gomez, and Odor all took a shot, with Odor’s lunge coming the closest, but the ball found all turf and no leather, and Oakland had a 4-spot in the inning.
One inning; six runs. What felt like an hour of anything-but-sharp baseball. And that was your ballgame.
All over but the clapping
They played the last three frames, just for the scorekeepers and the hearty few thousand who hung on.
Dario Alvarez worked into and out of trouble around a tough scorers decision on a throwing error by Joey Gallo, on a charging play at 3rd that looked quite reachable for Mike Napoli, bookended by a Rosales single. A strikeout and a popup ended the frame.
From there Keone Kela struck out two and walked one to get out of the 8th, but threw quite a few pitches when Lowrie and Davis made him throw 14 pitches for the first two strikeouts of the inning.
The Rangers last three innings were entirely uneventful. Sean Doolittle worked a perfect 7th and 8th for Oakland, and Santiago Casilla closed out the Rangers with two groundouts and a fly to left to end the night.
Of his night, Darvish was realistic but not overly emotional. Speaking through a translator, he diligently answered the post-game queries of just what went wrong in that sixth inning.
“The pitch to Rosales was obviously a mistake. Honestly, I didn’t feel much difference on that, but the results say it all. I didn’t get it done,” said Darvish.
From my cozy seat in Texas, a loss of feel was all I could account for, because Darvish didn’t struggle mechanically and didn’t drastically alter his work-away approach. Part of the problem may have been, third time through the lineup, Oakland began to sit on the outside pitch, knowing Darvish had rarely worked inside. Knowing his movement, they read the deliveries away and put good, balanced swings on the get-me-over, behind-in-the count-fastballs he had to compensate with.
Asked if it’s more frustrating to cruise early and then struggle like he did, Yu said “It’s almost like I was breezing through five, and it got to the sixth and it’s almost like I didn’t know what was happening. It happened quick.”
On a night that sped, then dragged on for an inning, before blowing away like the wind off the Bay, “quick” is as good a word as any to describe things. Miss one inning, and you miss the story. If you saw the first five, you saw a starter who could anchor this team deep into October. In the sixth, you saw a shadow of the doubt whether October will even be a worry.
We have to get through April nights in Oakland first. As this team can tell you, those are dreary enough.