Oakland 6, Seattle 2 (WPA graph from Fangraphs)
A's current record: 3-1
Heading into the bottom of the eighth inning the A's had a comfortable 4-0 lead and appeared to be cruising to an easy win. Even though the last two games were exciting, I'd prefer the worry-free feeling that comes with comfortable margins of victory. Brett Anderson had pitched six shutout innings, Chad Gaudin and Jerry Blevins had added two more scoreless frames, and the A's offense had been perfectly adequate.
Then, a strange happenstance play occurred, helping the A’s tack on some more runs, only for the Mariners to unexpectedly tighten the score.
Travis Buck led off the bottom of the eighth with a walk off of Kanekoa Teixeira. Cliff Pennington then laid down a bunt, a part sacrifice, part bunt for a hit combo. I'm pretty ambivalent about bunting in that situation, but I think that if you're gonna bunt, you might as well try to get on base yourself. That’s neither here nor there, though, because of what happened next. After Pennington dropped the bunt down, Jose Lopez came charging in to field the ball, only he didn't field it cleanly and knocked it over to Adam Moore. Moore reached down with his mask and picked the ball up with it.
I must have looked away for a second, but when I looked back, the umpires had sent Buck to third and Pennington to second. I had no idea why. Instead of listening to the Mariners' announcers try to explain the rule I decided to look it up myself. Meanwhile, Bob Geren came out to discuss the call with the umpires. Now I was really confused; you'd think he'd be happy to get those extra bases.
Well, it turns out that he may have had a legitimate beef. MLB Official Rule 7.05 (b) states that, "Each runner including the batter-runner may . . . advance three bases, if a fielder deliberately touches a fair ball with his cap, mask or any part of his uniform detached from its proper place on his person." The rule gets a little bit more confusing, stating next that, "The ball is in play and the batter may advance to home base at his peril."
There are two possible readings to the rule and I'm not quite sure which one is right. According to the first part of the rule, it seems that Davis should have been allowed to score and Pennington should have been awarded third. But, the second part of the rule could mean that the runners aren't allowed to score because of the rule. That doesn't seem right to me, though, given that the rulebook defines a "base" as "one of four points that much be touched in order to score a run." I'll have to see if anyone reports the correct ruling in this case, which I doubt will happen because Daric Barton drove in Davis and Pennington with a single two batters later to make all of this moot.
So, the A’s go into the ninth with a 6-0 lead. Blevins started the inning after having finished the 8th for Gaudin by getting Ichiro to ground into a fielder's choice. He struck Chone Figgins out, but then things got interesting. Franklin Gutierrez doubled, Milton Bradley walked, and Mike Sweeney singled, scoring Gutierrez. In came Andrew Bailey. I'm not sure this was the right move, but I can see the logic in it.
Maybe Blevins needed to come out of the game. He had faced two hitters the day before and had just let three straight batters reach base. If you take Blevins out, who do you bring in? Gaudin was already used, Ziegler had pitched in every game so far, and Ross pitched 2.1 innings yesterday. At this point you're looking at Bailey, Edwar Ramirez or Craig Breslow. If you put in Ramirez or Breslow and they falter, then you're left bringing in Bailey anyways.
Was this the right move, though? Probably not. At this point the A's still had a five run lead with one out in the 9th. Their win expectancy was still over 98%. Even after Tuiasosopo's single off of Bailey, their win expectancy was over 91%. I probably would have brought in Breslow, who almost certainly would have done a comparable job the Bailey (one hit allowed before getting the final two outs). Again, it wasn’t the worst decision in the world, especially given that Bailey did not pitch on Wednesday and will still likely be available tonight.
All in all it was a solid performance for the A’s and its nice to see them good of to a 3-1 start and the early lead in the AL West race.