A's losing streak hits 7 with 3rd walk-off loss in 4 days

June 15th, 2024

MINNEAPOLIS -- There are still 90 games remaining, but it’s going to be difficult to find another four-game stretch this season that stings as bad as this one for the A’s.

Much like two days prior in San Diego, the A’s held a lead over the Twins after seven innings on Friday night at Target Field and had their bullpen lined up perfectly for setup man Lucas Erceg and closer Mason Miller to finish a victory. And just like two days before, holding that late lead proved to be problematic as the A's fell, 6-5, in 10 innings.

When Erceg retired Trevor Larnach to start the bottom of the eighth, Oakland’s win probability jumped to 76.5 percent. Three batters later, Erceg loaded the bases on a four-pitch walk to Jose Miranda, leading manager Mark Kotsay to summon Miller to tiptoe the tightest of tightropes imaginable.

Miller began his outing by issuing a game-tying walk to Carlos Santana. Though the flame-throwing rookie showed resilience by limiting the damage to a run and coming back out for a scoreless ninth, Minnesota walked it off in the 10th when Max Kepler’s sharp grounder off Scott Alexander bounced off first baseman Tyler Soderstrom’s glove and rolled into right field to score Austin Martin from second base.

The loss was Oakland’s seventh consecutive and 13th in its last 16 games. Of those 13 defeats, 10 have been decided by three runs or fewer. The most frustrating of the bunch have come this week as Friday marked the third walk-off loss for the A’s in the past four days.

“Really tough loss,” Kotsay said. “This stretch, we’ve given some games away. Our guys are giving everything they have but [lacking] execution in terms of making plays.”

When these rebuilding A’s got off to a surprisingly solid start that saw them reach a .500 record (17-17) on May 4, they played fundamentally sound baseball and did the “little things” required to win close games. Those qualities have been absent the past couple of weeks, including Friday.

You can point to Erceg creating the tough situation for Miller in the eighth, and most of it was his own doing as he hit a batter and walked another. But there was also an error by Max Schuemann on a Carlos Correa routine grounder that, if converted, would have been the second out with no runners on.

“Once the error was made behind Lucas, there was a hit batter and a walk, and that’s three free bases there,” Kotsay said. “We’re costing ourselves wins.”

Schuemann’s rough night continued in the ninth. After drawing a leadoff walk, Schuemann broke for second with JJ Bleday facing a 2-2 count against Twins closer Jhoan Duran. Bleday scorched a hard liner that went straight to Kepler in right, creating an easy 9-3 double play to squash a potential rally.

“We were figuring there would be a breaking ball and we would steal the base,” Kotsay said. “Part of this is, you could have luck or no luck or just straight bad luck. … There’s nothing Schuemann can do in that situation. If it’s hit in the gap, we score. That’s part of it right now.”

Adding to the frustration of the loss was that the A’s seemed to have found the big hit that has eluded them so often in key moments. Entering Friday with the lowest team batting average (.202) in the Majors with runners in scoring position, catcher Shea Langeliers stepped to the plate with two outs in the first and clobbered a grand slam off Simeon Woods Richardson.

The slam was the first of Langeliers’ career (13th homer on the season) and first grand slam by the A’s since Ryan Noda on May 16, 2023, against Arizona.

“It felt like I kind of broke through,” Langeliers said. “We’ve been doing anything we can to try to come through in those situations. Those momentum shifts in this game are so huge. It felt good to get that one.”

What was shaping to be a strong outing for Mitch Spence was essentially spoiled by one pitch. After efficiently navigating through five innings of one-run ball, the rookie right-hander fell into a sixth-inning jam with two runners on and one out. Having already generated three double-play balls on the day, Spence was searching for a fourth to keep a three-run lead intact. Instead, Kepler ambushed a first-pitch slider for a game-tying three-run blast.

“We’ve got each other’s backs and want to fight for each other,” Langeliers said. “It’s just tough. It’s not going our way right now, and it sucks. But we’ve just got to stay together and grind our way through this one.”