Well, first off, there weren’t any Nazi salutes in today’s A’s game, so that’s a relief.
If you had asked me in January what would happen in the first A’s-Astros game of the year, I wouldn’t have guessed I’d be thinking more about Nazi salutes than the Astros sign-stealing scandal. I would have said there’d be a ton of hit-by-pitches. All those cheatin’ Astros — Bregman, Altuve, Correa — they were gonna get theirs.
There were, in fact, three hit-by-pitches, but they were all A’s batters. Robbie Grossman got hit twice, and Ramon Laureano once. A’s pitchers didn’t hit any Astros batters at all, nor did they get particularly close to doing so, either.
If you were going to hit some batters with pitches, this would have been a very good day to do so, because nobody on either team could drive in a damned run to save their lives. The Astros were 3-for-17 with runners in scoring position, the A’s were 3-for-19. But that doesn’t even touch how bad that was, because often, they didn’t even need a hit to drive in a run. There were many, many opportunities for both teams to drive in a run in this game just by putting the ball in play, and the batter struck out instead. The Astros left 13 runners on base in this game, the A’s left 18. And so, despite every extra inning beginning with a runner on second, nobody could score in the 10th, 11th or 12th innings.
Praise be to the pitchers, I guess. Zack Greinke is a freakin’ genius. If I could take one player in MLB and move him to another team — well, I guess I’d move Mike Trout out of the AL West because that dude just kills the A’s 20 times a year — but besides Mike Trout, I’d move Greinke off the Astros because I really like Greinke and really dislike the Astros. The Astros have had a ton of pitching injuries this year, and after Greinke they paraded a bunch of young arms out there, like Enoli Paredes. Paredes was impressive, too; there were times the A’s could win by just putting the ball in play, and Paredes just blew fastball after fastball by the A’s hitters, and got the strikeouts he needed.
On the A’s side, Chris Bassitt was really impressive today. Aside from Sean Manaea, who doesn’t seem to have more than three innings in his gas tank these days, the A’s starting rotation looks pretty darn solid, as does the bullpen. There’s not a single player in the bullpen who has pitched poorly this season.
J.B. Wendelken gave up a double to Alex Bregman to lead off the 13th that scored a go-ahead run for the Astros, but he didn’t put the runner that scored on base, the rules did. Wendelken then proceed to strand Bregman, as he had stranded the inserted runners in the two previous innings. It was an excellent job of pitching through several artificially manufactured tight spots.
Wendelken ended up getting the win in the game when the A’s managed to score two in the bottom of the 13th. They were down to their last strike on Austin Allen, who finally managed to get the A’s their first RBI with a runner in scoring position in the game, which tied things back up at 2-2. Then the next batter, Marcus Semien, got a hit that normally would have been a double to the gap, but counted as a single because the bases were loaded and it ended the game.
The A’s are 10-4 now, which seems hard to believe given how poorly they’ve hit in most of these games. I bet you could look at almost every game they’ve played so far, change the outcome of one play in those games, and make it so the A’s are 4-10 now instead of the other way around. They have not been as dominant as a .714 winning percentage and a 3.5 game lead in the AL West would indicate.
But if you go out and pitch well and play defense well, you will have a chance to win every game, even if you don’t hit much. And if the other team doesn’t match you, you will succeed in those chances to win more often than not. Everyone celebrates a flashy winner, but there’s more than one way to win. A steady competence works, too.