Monday’s game was exactly what we expected from Oakland A’s 2022 season, but with reverse roles.
Everything went wrong for the Tampa Bay Rays, and everyone on the A’s responded by playing like a superstar, resulting in a 13-2 shellacking at Tropicana Field.
*** Click here to review today’s game thread! ***
The day went south to Tampa Bay almost immediately. Facing his fourth batter in the game, Rays starts Luis Patino strained his left slant and had to leave the game. Only two outs in the evening they already called on the bullpen and their emergency replacement hit a batter with his first pitch and allowed homers with his fourth pitch and his ninth pitch. A couple of defensive miscues on the infield later made things even worse.
Oakland took full advantage. They scored four runs in the 1st inning, then four more in the 2nd, where they got another one in the 4th and four more in the 9. By the end, they had launched four dingers, including a grand slam to close it last frame, and struck out 13 hits with three times and one HBP. Over half of their hits went to extra bases and they went 4-to-10 with runners in scoring position.
On the other side of the ball, A’s starts Paul Blackburn was brilliant. With a great early lead, he came through five pointless innings, lacked bats like we’ve never seen him do, and hit a career-high seven batteries. Three relievers took it the rest of the way without any drama.
The injury to Patiño was a miserable way to start the day and it made the Rays run from the start. Sometimes everyone steps up in an emergency game, and a parade of relievers surprisingly keeps the opponent’s lineup guessing for nine innings. That was not the case tonight.
First out of the pen was Chris Mazza. The right-hand man is an East Bay product who was born in Walnut Creek and attended Clayton Valley High School in Concord, after which he stayed nearby at Menlo College in Atherton.
When he came in with a runner on second and two out, Mazza’s first pitch slipped out of his hand and pointed Sean Murphy at the back, so wild that it went almost behind him without contact. Next up was Seth Brown, and he destroyed the third pitch he saw, 427 feet at 108.5 mph output speed. Three-run Brownie Blast!
Then come Chad Pinder, and he also went deep and made it back-to-back to homers. Brown and Pinder have each gone yard twice already this year, in the first four games.
Charging continued in the second round. A couple of singles led out of the frame and Rays lost a grounder on the turf for a field error sending a runner home. With two on and still no one out, Elvis Andrus left the building for a three-run tater.
The score was now 8-0 and the rest of the match felt like a formality, but if last year taught us anything, then it was it is not over until it is over. But it turned out that this one was really over.
Mazza made it through the 3rd inning but found several problems in the 4th. Another infield error and a couple of singles filled the bases, and the Rays hesitated a moment too long on a potential inning-ending double play grounder, allowing Murphy to beat it out and a race to score.
Tampa Bay finally went to their bullpen again after that, and Oakland’s lineup remained quiet for a while until one last shout at last.
When the game was already out of reach, Ray’s right fielder switched Brett Phillips to the mound to look up. That alone was worth the entrance fee when the universally popular Phillips made something of a show. He delivered the ball at an average speed of 46.7 mph and strangest window you’ve ever seenand talked some kind of garbage with get laugh out of his opponent. Then he made one fantastic diving catch of a pop-up in bad territory sliding almost into the grave.
The only thing he did not get, however, was the last zero on the scoreboard. He managed unscathed through the 8th inning, but in the 9th he filled the bases and Sheldon Neuse connected to a grand slam.
“Your body just will not wait that long,” Neuse said of the speed in the mid-40s, according to Matt Kawahara of SF Chronicle.
The whole match was a strange situation, but the A’s took care of the business. It is easy to write off a big scoring day when the opponent hits some unexpected adversity, but it is also not a guarantee that it will happen. Sometimes the sudden turn also reveals your lineup, and they each face a different arm in each match, and three hours later you wonder why no one could sit in and set something up. Not today, when the clumsy group of hitters emphatically came through.
Murphy even challenged his first career triple!
While the Oaklands lineup smashed everything they saw, their pitching staff held serve just as strongly.
Starter Paul Blackburn was as ugly as we’ve ever seen him. He met 19 batter and knocked seven of them out, earning a dozen swinging strikes, accounting for 17% of the pitches he threw and 41% of all swings against him. These are monster numbers from a pitcher not known for missing bats, and they added up to five dominant innings where the Rays never reached third base.
- Black burnt: 5 ip, 0 runs, 7 Ks, 1 BB, 3 hits, 71 pitches
There were a few loud ones against him, but this was a season debut beyond any reasonable expectation. Team insider Martin Gallegos notes that Blackburn “fooled around with new grips this offseason and found one for a more ‘sweepy’ shooter,” who registered as a curveball on Statcast and got more touches than any of his other pitches. Blackburn mentioned that curve among some other things that went well tonight.
The A’s turned to their pen in the 6th, and Tampa Bay scratched a few runs out in the garbage time. But it was too little too late, and Zach Jackson, AJ Puk (2 rounds), and Justin Grimm absorbed the last frames.
Are we having fun yet?
The first two games of the year were what we expected, with Oakland’s maladapted list turned around. The last two have been something completely different, with a business win over the Phillies and now a wild round over the Rays.
This does not mean that they will suddenly be emerging candidates due to two early victories, but they show that they will not go down easily and that opponents must take them seriously. At least they’re already more fun than we dared hope.
What does the next six months bring? We will have to wait and see, but it has certainly not been a tedious remodel so far.