Monday’s game was exactly what we expected from Oakland A’s 2022 season, but with the roles reversed.
It all went wrong for the Tampa Bay Rays, and everyone on the A’s responded by playing like a superstar, resulting in a 13-2 loss at Tropicana Field.
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The day went south for Tampa Bay almost immediately. Facing his fourth hitter of the game, the Rays starter Luis Patino strained his left oblique and had to leave the game. Barely two outs in the evening, they were already calling at the bullpen, and their emergency reliever threw a batter on his first pitch and allowed home runs on his fourth pitch and ninth pitch. A few defensive errors by the infield later made matters even worse.
Oakland took full advantage of it. They scored four runs in that 1st inning, then four more in the 2nd, stealing another in the 4th and four more in the 9th. By the end, they had thrown four dingers, including a grand slam to cap the final frame, and hit 13 hits to go along with three walks and an HBP. More than half of their hits went for extra bases, and they went 4-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
On the other side of the ball, A’s starter Paul Blackburn was brilliant. Armed with a huge early lead, he went five scoreless innings, missing bats like we’ve never seen him do and batting out a career-high seven batters. Three relievers made it the rest of the way without any drama.
Patiño’s injury was a bad way to start the day, and the Rays struggled from the get-go. Sometimes everyone is in an emergency bullpen game, and a parade of relievers surprisingly keeps the opposing roster guessing for nine innings. That was not the case tonight.
The first out of the enclosure was Chris Mazza. The right-hander is an East Bay product who was born in Walnut Creek and attended Clayton Valley High School in Concord, then stayed nearby at Menlo College in Atherton.
Going in with a runner on second and two out, Mazza’s first pitch slipped out of his hand and caught Sean Murphy in the back, so wild that he almost passed behind him without touching. The next step was Seth Brown, and he wiped out the third pitch he saw, 427 feet at an exit speed of 108.5 mph. Brownie Blast three times!
And came Chad Pinder, and he went that far, making it back-to-back homers. Brown and Pinder have already rushed two yards apiece this year, in the first four games.
The charge continued in the second inning. A pair of singles led out of bounds and the Rays lost ground on the turf for a fielding error to send a runner home. With two and still nobody outside, Elvis Andrus left the building for a tater three times.
The score was now 8-0, and the rest of the game felt like a formality, although last year has taught us something, it’s that it’s not over until it’s over. But it turned out that this one was well and truly over.
Mazza made it through round 3, but found more trouble in round 4. Another infield error and a pair of singles loaded the bases, and the Rays hesitated a moment too long on a potential late-inning double play ground, allowing Murphy to beat it and a run to score.
Tampa Bay finally returned to their bullpen after that and the Oakland lineup quieted down for a while, until a final scream at the end.
With the game already out of reach, the Rays moved the right fielder Brett Phillips to the mound to throw. That alone was worth the price of admission, as the universally popular Phillips put on quite a show. He delivered the ball with an average speed of 46.7 mph and the the weirdest liquidation you’ve ever seenand I spoke friendly to make your opponent laugh. Then he made a amazing dive catch of a popup in fetid territory, almost sliding into the dugout.
However, the only thing he didn’t get was the last zero on the scoreboard. He went through the 8th inning unscathed, but in the 9th he charged the bases and Sheldon Neuse connected for a grand slam.
“Your body just doesn’t want to wait that long,” Neuse said of the mid-40s speed, by Matt Kawahara of the SF Chronicle.
The whole game was a weird situation, but the A’s took care of business. It’s easy to undo a big goalscoring day when the opponent encounters unexpected adversity, but it’s also no guarantee that it will happen. Sometimes the sudden twist also disrupts your lineup and they each face a different arm every innings and three hours later you’re wondering why no one could settle in and settle anything. Not today, when the ragtag group of hitters came out strong.
even Murphy scored his first career hat-trick!
As the Oakland roster crushed everything they saw, their pitching team held serve just as strongly.
Entrance Paul Blackburn was as wicked as we’ve ever seen. He faced 19 batters and struck out seven, earning a dozen swing strikes that accounted for 17% of the pitches he threw and 41% of all swings against him. Those are monster numbers from a pitcher who isn’t known for missing bats, and they’ve added as many as five dominant innings in which the Rays never even reached third base.
- Blackburn: 5 ip, 0 runs, 7 Ks, 1 BB, 3 hits, 71 pitches
There were a few outbursts against him, but it was a start to the season beyond any reasonable expectation. Notes from Team Insider Martin Gallegos that Blackburn “tinkered with new grips this offseason and found one for more of a ‘swipe’ slider,” who registered as a curveball on Statcast and got more puffs than any of his other lands. Blackburn mentioned that curve among other things that went well tonight.
The A’s turned to their bullpen in the 6th, and Tampa Bay missed a few points in foul weather. But it was too little too late, and zack jackson, AJ Puk (2 rounds), and Justin Grimm absorbed the final images.
Are we still having fun?
The first two games of the year were what we expected, with Oakland’s mismatched roster being knocked down. The last two have been something quite different, with a pro win over the Phillies and now a wild rout over the Rays.
That’s not to say they’ll suddenly be upstart contenders because of two first wins, but they do show they won’t fall easily, and that opponents must take them seriously. If nothing else, they’re already more fun than we dared let ourselves hope.
What will the next six months bring? We’ll have to wait and see, but it certainly hasn’t been a boring rebuild so far.