OAKLAND – The A’s fans in right field, they remember Grant Balfour and what he did for their team during his three seasons in the other city by the bay. So they paid tribute by doing the “Balfour Rage,” when Balfour entered Monday’s game to begin the bottom of the 10th inning.
Not long afterwards, those same fans where cheering their A’s, who used a two-out, bases-loaded single by Derek Norris to beat the Rays 3-2 at the O.Co Coliseum.
“Just got beat by a good team,” Balfour said. “That’s it, plain and simple.”
But there was much more to the Rays’ third loss in their last four games than that.
There was a wild start by Alex Cobb, who couldn’t find the strike zone during the first two innings and prevented him from finishing the sixth inning, and a botched bunt by Brandon Guyer in the ninth inning that led to Sean Rodriguez getting thrown out at the plate while attempting to score the go-ahead run.
And then there was bottom of the 10th, when Balfour allowed a pair of 0-2 hits, including the game winner. He also walked two batters, though one of those walks came into question during the inning and after the game.
Pitching with runners on first and second, Balfour felt Josh Donaldson did not check his swing in time on what would have been strike three had home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor saw it the same way. He didn’t, but Bucknor did ask first umpire Quinn Wolcott for help. Wolcott signaled that Donaldson had not swung.
Rays manager Joe Maddon argued with Wolcott and was ejected from the game. Had the pitch been called a strike, there would have been two outs. Instead Donaldson worked a walk to load the bases with one out.
“That’s not borderline, that was egregious and that’s what I had a problem with, because I had been patient all night with a lot of stuff,” Maddon said. “Some of the umpires in this particular crew you have to be patient with. So my patience ran out at that point. That call was inappropriate. I know he’s a young umpire, but hopefully he’ll learn something from it.”
Also during that inning, first baseman Sean Rodriguez and right fielder Kevin Kiermaier also failed to catch a foul ball that landed in the right field bullpen.
“It’s tough when you got to get five outs sometimes,” Balfour said. “That’s all I’ll say. We got beat by a good team, and it’s tough when you got to get five outs. That’s all I’ll say. Let’s leave it at that, otherwise I’ll be saying the wrong thing.”
With the loss, the Rays dropped 9 ½ games behind first-place Baltimore in the AL East and are 5 ½ games out of the second AL Wild Card spot.
The A’s, meanwhile, held onto their one-game lead over the Angels in the AL West. The A’s have the best record in baseball. The Angels have the second best.
“We didn’t execute offensively, whether it was the bunt or not to move a runner, and you got to do all the little things well to beat these guys right now, but I’m here to tell you we’re as good as they are,” Maddon said. “I’m not going to back down from that. I truly believe that. I know the record doesn’t reflect that, but we’re as good as this team is, and they have a pretty good record, but we got to prove it on the field.”
The bunt in question came with runners on first and third and one out in the ninth.
James Loney led off with a single against A’s closer Sean Doolittle. Logan Forsythe bunted Rodriguez, running for Loney, to second. An error on A’s shortstop Jed Lowrie allowed Rodriguez, who was running when the ball was hit, to advance to third.
Could Rodriguez have scored when the ball rolled away from Lowrie?
“I saw it hit (Lowrie’s glove) and kick up,” Rodriguez said. “It turned around on me. That’s a tough read to make if Lowrie knows where it’s at or not. A play like that I don’t think anybody can read a play like that. … Looking at it afterwards I told myself if I had kept going I would have made it. I think so. But, two outs, worth a shot. One out, tough to say go right there.”
Guyer hit for Jose Molina and tried to execute the Rays first-and-third bunt play. The idea is to push the ball toward the first-base side of the pitcher. But Doolittle threw Guyer a high fastball, and Guyer bunted the ball right back to Doolittle.
Rodriguez didn’t have a chance of scoring.
Guyer is the Rays’ best bunter, but Maddon said he wished Guyer would have waited for a better pitch to bunt.
“The point is to take it,” Maddon said. “You don’t have to bunt it.”
Kiermaier struck out to end the inning and the Rays’ last threat.
Cobb pitched himself in and out of trouble during the first two innings. He walked the bases-loaded in the first when only nine of his 23 pitches were strikes. The A’s loaded the bases again in the second with the help of Cobb’s fourth walk of the game. Cobb got out of that jam, as well.
“The whole game was a struggle,” Cobb said. “It was one of those games where you try to battle with whatever you can find. It’s hard to come by. It’s hard to repeat pitches.”
But Cobb found himself pitching with the lead on two occasions.
Evan Longoria’s 14th homer of the season to begin the second inning gave the Rays a 1-0 lead.
The Rays then took a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning when Kiermaier tripled with two outs and scored on a single by Desmond Jennings.
But a two-out single by Donaldson in the sixth inning tied the score at 2-2 and ended Cobb’s night.
Brad Boxberger came on in the seventh after Joel Peralta walked pinch-hitters Coco Crisp and Jonny Gomes to load the bases with two out. Boxberger struck out Sam Fuld to end that inning.
It was Fuld’s one out single against Balfour started led to the winning run.
Balfour then walked John Jaso and Donaldson to load the bases.
The Rays brought Ben Zobrist in from left field to employ a five-man infield. Balfour struck out Brandon Moss for the second out. That sent Zobrist back to left field.
Norris then followed with a bouncing single up the middle to the left side of second base, and the A’s had their eighth walk-off win of the season, a team record.
Afterwards, Maddon wondered what might have been had Balfour gotten the call on Donaldson.
“We did a lot of things that could have permitted us to win earlier, I understand that, but this is how this game works,” Maddon said. “You can’t always execute against a good team, but that particular call was egregiously bad.”
Loney singled in the second inning to extend his streak of reaching base by a hit/walk or hit-by-pitch to 23 games … Zobrist’s nine-game hitting streak was stopped. The Rays are the only team in the majors without a 10-game hitting streak by a player … The loss snapped the Rays eight-game road winning streak … Maddon has been ejected five times this season. This was the first time the Rays lost after he had been tossed.