PITTSBURGH -- When the A’s secured their first series victory of 2023 against the Royals on May 6 at Kauffman Stadium, there was optimism that those back-to-back wins in Kansas City could build momentum in what has been a miserable start to the season.
Nearly a full month since that day, the A’s have gone winless on the road. Their current road losing streak now sits at 15 games, matching the longest such streak in Oakland history (May 24-June 23, 1976). Many of those defeats have carried the same recurring hiccups that once again crept up in Monday’s 5-4 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park.
The A’s jumped out to an early three-run lead, which starter JP Sears managed to hold up despite issuing a career-high five walks as he limited Pittsburgh to one run through 4 2/3 innings. After watching a 3-1 lead painfully evaporate on back-to-back bases-loaded walks by Shintaro Fujinami in the sixth, Oakland tied it up in the eighth on Aledmys Díaz’s pinch-hit RBI double.
From there, the growing pains only worsened. A few batters after Díaz’s double, the A’s loaded the bases with only one out. Oakland had an opportunity to at least take the lead and perhaps break the game open, but Jace Peterson struck out and Nick Allen flied out to end the threat. Peterson and Allen worked three-ball counts in both at-bats before swinging through pitches out of the strike zone.
“Tonight, we didn’t play well enough to win the game,” manager Mark Kotsay said. “I don’t want to say we gave the game away, but there were a lot of instances that we had a chance to capitalize on. Again, runners in scoring position is still an issue. We get a count to 2-0 or 3-1 where we’ve got guys swinging at balls with the bases loaded. If we don’t learn from that and grow, we’re not going to get any better. There’s teaching moments in this game.”
Another one of those moments came in the ninth, when Esteury Ruiz, who swiped his MLB-leading 29th stolen base earlier in the game, led off with a single and was nabbed at second base looking for No. 30. The caught stealing was immediately followed by a double from Ryan Noda and Brent Rooker’s single, setting up runners at the corners with one out. Both runners were left stranded to end the game, putting Oakland at 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position for the night and 10 runners left on base.
“From the standpoint of just winning games, road or home, tonight was a prime example of us just not executing,” Kotsay said. “Not playing well enough to win a baseball game when we should have.”
Prior to Monday’s series opener, Kotsay discussed the importance of highlighting the positives, individual or team-based, in what continues to be a frustrating campaign. One positive comes in Sears’ ability to battle without a good feel for his pitches.
Sears entered the night having walked no more than two batters in each of his first 11 starts, so the five free passes he issued were certainly uncharacteristic. His pitch count sat at 61 through two innings and he constantly worked himself into hitter-friendly opportunities by reaching three-ball counts against 10 of his 21 batters faced. Yet by the end of it, he finished with just one run allowed on two hits and five walks with six strikeouts, which actually lowered his ERA to 4.20.
“You watch enough baseball to know that you’re not going to feel your best every outing,” Sears said. “Today could have definitely gone south for me. I’ll take away the positives of that good third and fourth inning. I battled throughout it. [Kotsay] let me face that last hitter with 100-plus pitches. He had some trust in me there, and I appreciate it.”
At some point, though, those positives need to translate to wins, which continue to be too much of a rare occurrence. Now 12-50, the A’s join the 1932 Red Sox as the only teams in the Modern Era (since 1900) to lose at least 50 of their 62 games. Boston went on to lose 111 games that season.
“Baseball is tough sometimes,” Sears said. “We’re grinding every day. Everybody’s got a good attitude coming to the park. It’s going to turn around eventually. A game like tonight could have definitely gone our way with a couple of different plays. We’re just going to keep our heads up and keep grinding.”