Perhaps its a self fulfilling prophecy, but the A’s sure do have a knack for finding heartbreaking ways to lose games in Arlington. I wish I could say there’s no rhyme or reason to this, but right now I think we can chalk it up to the simple fact that the Texas Rangers are the best team in baseball right now, and may very well be for the rest of 2012. But for once let’s not dwell on the negative aspects of tonight’s brutal loss, let’s look at a major positive. That major positive would be a young man by the name of AJ Griffin. It’s really a shame that Griffin couldn’t earn his first Major League win because he pitched his heart out in the face of far from ideal conditions. Griffin yet again got on such a hot streak that he retired 13 Rangers in a row before allowing just his 2nd hit of the night in the 6th inning. It’s hard to resist getting excited about the future of AJ Griffin, but he’s made two starts in two big environments and has excelled in both.
The other positive from this game is the triumphant return of Chris Carter to the A’s lineup. He has been much discussed, much hyped, and has been something of a disappointment to many in the A’s camp every time he’s been called up. But every time he goes back to Sacramento he rakes. Tonight though he had a good first impression back. It may have meant little, but his 9th inning home run (solo of course) showed an aggressiveness that his swing has lacked for much of the time he was in Oakland. I would like to see more and more of that aggression on the part of Chris Carter in order to keep him in Oakland for good this time.
TURNING POINT: The disastrous 8th inning that doomed the A’s tonight was made possible by Grant Balfour’s reunion with his inability to throw strikes. The inning started off harmlessly enough as Ian Kinsler flew out to Josh Reddick, but Elvis Andrus singled and stole 2nd and that’s when the wheels came off. A walk to Josh Hamilton and Michael Young with a flyout by Adrian Beltre in between loaded up the bases. Then in a crucial spot where strikes were essential for survival, Balfour justified any jokes made about his surname by walking Nelson Cruz to bring in the Rangers’ first run. Then in an effort to put out the fire Balfour had started, Ryan Cook was brought into the game to end the threat. Cook did his job in all honesty, he got Craig Gentry to hit a fly ball to left off his fists but Yoenis Cespedes was perhaps fooled by the way in which the ball was hit and broke in on the ball. That was his fatal mistake as the ball carried over his head and the speedy Gentry cruised into 3rd base, clearing the bases and giving the Rangers a 4-2 lead.
ON THE HILL: AJ Griffin’s start simply cannot be ignored, his 6 innings of shutout ball, allowing just 2 hits, 2 walks, and striking out 4 has to have done enough to keep him in Oakland for the time being, and perhaps after Bartolo Colon or Brandon McCarthy return. Jerry Blevins did his job, pitching a scoreless inning without allowing a hit or a walk and striking out 1. Grant Balfour’s ugly line was 0.2 innings with 4 ER, 1 hit and 3 walks, ending his recent run of success and raising his ERA to 3.49. Ryan Cook surrendered the hit to Gentry, but got a strikeout of his own for his 0.1 innings.
AT THE PLATE: Jemile Weeks, Yoenis Cespedes, and Derek Norris (in the DH spot) each collected 2 hits tonight in their 4 at bats each. Chris Carter reached base twice in his first game back with the A’s, walking and hitting the solo homer in the 9th. Brandon Inge continued his slump since coming off the DL with another 0-4 performance.
FINAL THOUGHTS: The A’s are now staring the real possibility of a 4 game sweep at the hands of the Rangers. I would like to propose a new baseball law, no more 4 game series in Arlington right before the All Star Break, we all know how last year’s series turned out. Tomorrow’s game is most definitely winnable if A’s starter Tommy Milone can continue to overcome his issues pitching on the road. Milone comes into tomorrow’s start with an 8-5 record and an ERA of 3.83. He will be opposed by Martin Perez who will be making his starting debut in the Major Leagues. The A’s absolutely must do everything in their power to spoil the young lefty’s big day, punish him early, and punish him hard. The objective now for the A’s is to split this series, but right now just avoiding the sweep is the top priority.