The A’s have been so futile in the playoffs for so long now that there is sometime confusion about exactly how futile they’ve been. I heard a couple of times today that the A’s never win elimination games, but that’s not exactly true. The A’s have won some games when they’ve been the ones threatened with elimination. For example, there’s 2012 ALDS Game 4, the infamous Fosse scream game, in which the A’s trailed 3-1 going into the bottom of the ninth, and scored three runs to win the game 4-3, and stay alive for one more day.
The A’s problem has been winning games when the other team is on the brink of elimination. In those games, the A’s are 1-15 since Billy Beane took over. So while they may have won an occasional Fosse scream game, the day after such victories, when the other team is also facing elimination, has been where the disaster has come. Of course, in a normal playoff series, the opposing team often sets up their rotation so that their most dominant pitcher is pitching in that particular game, which is part of the problem. The Fosse Scream series, and also the ALDS series following season, had the A’s needing to win a game 5 against a Hall of Fame pitcher like Justin Verlander, which did not go very well.
So I was not too shocked that the A’s won Game 2 of this Wild Card series against the Chicago White Sox, 5-3. This is not the type of game where the A’s are jinxed. They’re not like the Twins, who got eliminated today in two games against the Astros, who haven’t won a single playoff game since 2004, a streak of 18 straight games lost. No, the A’s can win games. They just can’t win series. The only series they’ve won, and the only game they’ve won with a chance to advance, was against those same Twins in 2006, where two teams in the midst of long bouts of playoff futility met, and one of them had to win.
So today’s game did not shock me too much. It’s tomorrow’s game, where the A’s could advance to the next round if they win, that’s the problem. We A’s fans have been burned for so long, by losing in so many unique and unlikely ways in such games, that winning Game 3 of this series seems like it’s impossible.
Game 2 of this series was kind of like the inverse of the Fosse Scream Game. Instead of improbably coming from behind to win, they came from ahead to almost lose. White Sox starter Dallas Keuchel was not sharp, and when Matt Olson hit a grounder in the first inning that hit the lip of the infield and bounced over the glove of 2B Nick Madrigal to score two runs. The A’s added two more runs later on home runs by Marcus Semien and Khris Davis to give the A’s a 5-0 lead. And then things almost went completely off the rails.
Chris Bassitt was great, allowing no runs in 7 innings. He went back out for the eighth, but gave up a leadoff single to Tim Anderson, who is a Pablo Sandoval-type playoff pest you can’t get out because he puts the ball in play whether you throw the ball in the strike zone or not.
Bob Melvin opted to go with Liam Hendriks for two innings, instead of his usual regular season combo of Jake Diekman and/or Joakim Soria for the 8th, and then Hendriks for the ninth. But Hendriks was not sharp, frequently missing badly with his fast ball, and he allowed a 2-run homer to Yasmani Grandal in the 8th, and then with two outs in the ninth, gave up two straight hits to Madrigal and Anderson, and then walked Yoan Moncada. Hendriks was over 40 pitches at this point, and Melvin finally opted for Diekman. Diekman then walked Grandal to make it 5-3, and bring up possible AL MVP José Abreu. Abreu hit a rocket, but thankfully it was right at 2B defensive replacement Nate Orf, who fielded it cleanly and threw Abreu out to end the game.
That was one giant exhale. The A’s stayed alive in the playoffs for one more day. This blog stayed alive for one more day. It’s one more day that is expected to feature very hot temperatures, potentially hazardous air quality (which may or may not force them to delay or postpone the game), and the even more hazardous winner-take-all game, of which the A’s have lost 9 straight. The last winner-take-all game the A’s won was Game 7 of the 1973 World Series against the New York Mets. That was the year before I started paying attention to baseball. So, as far as my experience goes, the A’s have always lost these types of games. I’m expecting the worst.