NEW YORK -- Playing for their season in a most raucous environment, the A's descended on a hostile Yankee Stadium on Wednesday evening, wanting so badly to extend an already extraordinary journey, only to writhe under the mountainous pressure at play.The A's decision to bullpen their way through the American
NEW YORK -- Playing for their season in a most raucous environment, the A's descended on a hostile Yankee Stadium on Wednesday evening, wanting so badly to extend an already extraordinary journey, only to writhe under the mountainous pressure at play.
The A's decision to bullpen their way through the American League Wild Card Game was the first of its kind in a postseason setting, and scrutiny surrounding it will surely accompany their 7-2 season-ending loss to the Yankees. But it can't be single-handedly blamed.
:: AL Wild Card Game schedule and results ::
A robust offense gone rogue will also have to answer for the disappointing ending. The A's boppin' bats got them this far, but they managed a mere five hits in this one, their first not coming until the fifth and a bounty of opportunities squandered throughout. Khris Davis' opposite-field, two-run homer in the eighth was ultimately too little, too late.
Davis heard the boos pregame. Baseball's 2018 home run king warranted more than his teammates -- "It got me fired up a little bit," he would later say. "It's nice to know that they know who I am" -- as the sincerest form of compliment from a rowdy Bronx bunch. Davis, too, took in the deafening sounds of celebration from the field postgame, where he stood among a throng of passersby, most of them media, while Matt Chapman, who grounded out to end the game, slowly made his way back to the dugout.
Davis waited out Chapman to give him a hug.
"He's battled all year for us, and he's a great teammate," Davis said. "I know he didn't want to be the last out, so when he was, I just wanted to let him to know it was all right."
Oakland -- which missed out on a trip to Boston to engage the Red Sox in the AL Division Series, diverting home instead -- will be all right. A premature postseason exit shouldn't take away from a wildly successful feel-good campaign that began so innocently. Outsiders expected little of this team, following a string of three straight last-place finishes, and the resilient A's overcame a heap of adversity to rise above, well ahead of schedule -- all the way to 97 wins.
"We were happy to be here, but we wanted to win and we expected to win, so it is disappointing, but coming into the season when nobody counted on us and nobody expected us to do anything, what we achieved we should be proud of," Chapman said. "I'm proud of my teammates and proud to be on this team, and I think it's just the beginning for us."
A group that thrived as the comeback kids just couldn't replicate the regular-season magic on baseball's biggest stage, stranding nine runners and finishing 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. Notably, Oakland left the bases loaded in the fourth under the watch of New York starter Luis Severino, and another two in the fifth despite greeting the right-hander with back-to-back hits to open the inning.
The Yanks turned to right-hander Dellin Betances, who made his way through the heart of the A's order with ease, inducing a weak fly ball from Chapman and a popup from Jed Lowrie before fanning Davis.
The A's only hoped to get another chance like that again. They didn't. And the Yankees, who secured an early lead thanks to Aaron Judge's two-run homer in the first inning opposite opener Liam Hendriks, just kept hitting.
Following admirable work from rookie right-hander Lou Trivino, who kept Oakland within two runs by twirling three scoreless innings, Shawn Kelley pitched a scoreless fifth and Fernando Rodney was summoned for the sixth.
The veteran pitcher watched Judge pull out a double on a soft bouncer that stayed within the right-field line, and Aaron Hicks tagged him for an RBI double and a 3-0 Yankees lead. Rodney's next pitch went wild, prompting A's manager Bob Melvin to call upon his closer amid dire circumstances, hoping to stop the bleeding.
"That's the guy we want on the mound no matter what," Chapman said. "He's the guy we've looked to all year and carried us and been pretty much an MVP guy for us."
Blake Treinen, who inherited a 1-0 count against Giancarlo Stanton, walked him, then surrendered a two-run triple to Luke Voit, setting up a Didi Gregorius sacrifice fly in an inning that essentially spelled out the end of Oakland's season. It marked the first time all year Treinen -- owner of a minuscule 0.78 ERA during the regular season -- allowed more than one earned run in a game. Stanton took him deep in the eighth to tack on the final run.
"We all went over our possible scenarios and were just told to be ready at certain times," Treinen said. "Things happen, and things escalated for us, and I had to get going.
"The situation itself, it's not ideal by any means, but what we've done so good all year is picking each other up. I just didn't do a good job of executing pitches."
It's fair to question these A's and their pitching choices, but at the end of the day, they only had so many. A rotation demolished by injuries left them with a quartet of risky starting options as they gameplanned for a one-and-done affair. They could have opted for one of Mike Fiers, Edwin Jackson, Trevor Cahill or Brett Anderson, electing rather to go with what they believed was their best collection of arms. They just so happened to be relievers.
An all-bullpen attack, the A's believed, meant going all in.
"We were kind of forced to do it because of a lack of starting pitching, and our bullpen is our strength right now," catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "We had to utilize our strength. So it's not ideal, but we had to do what we had to do, especially in a one-game playoff. You got to roll your best guys out there. You got to roll your best weapons. You have the heaviest weapons you got, you got to put them in, especially against that lineup in a park like this in an environment like this in a one-game playoff."
"It was a tough environment," Davis said. "It's pretty hard, but I'm not disappointed at all. I think we showed some people we could do some things, and I think next year we're a little bit more of a threat, so I hope we can just continue this and build on it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The A's appeared to be on to something when Davis reached base on an error and Matt Olson joined him after drawing his second walk to put two on with one out in the fourth. Stephen Piscotty, who led the AL with 25 RBIs in September, was next in line, but he flied out for the second out as rookie Ramon Laureano stepped to the plate. The outfielder fell behind Severino, 0-2, before laying off several close pitches and working a walk to load the bases for Marcus Semien, who was done in by a 99.6 mph fastball, swinging through it for strike three to thwart the threat.
"They got off to a good start with the home run and they ended up adding on," Melvin said. "We just didn't do enough offensively tonight. You have to give them credit. They pitched really well."
Oakland has dropped eight straight winner-take-all games, the longest streak in Major League history. The A's have not won one since Game 7 of the 1973 World Series.
HE SAID IT
"We can hang our heads, and I'll probably let this be my night to process this, but for the most part, if you look back, a lot of good things from the beginning of Spring Training to now. I think if you look back and you told us we would have 97 wins at the end of the year and guys with career years and an opportunity to be in a Wild Card Game against a team with 100 wins, I think we'd all take that. Obviously tonight didn't go the way we wanted, but we can't be upset with effort. It's not because of effort, just more or less not our day, and they made us pay for some lapses." -- Treinen
Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010.