OAKLAND -- Sean Doolittle hadn't hit a batter in 86 major-league innings before Friday night. After the A's 4-2 loss to the Red Sox, in which Boston put both tiebreaking runs on base against Doolittle in the eighth inning, the inside fastball that caught Shane Victorino around the head in the eighth inning seemed to be what bothered Doolittle the most.
Jose Iglesias led off the inning with a single and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and a groundout, meaning Doolittle still had a shot at getting out of the inning with the score tied at 2-2. But his 0-1 pitch was too far up and in to Victorino, who spun around hard and took his time going to first base. A's manager Bob Melvin then brought in Ryan Cook to face Dustin Pedroia, who lined a two-run single to left.
Doolittle said the inside fastball is a "pitch I execute a lot" to right-handed hitters in order to back them off the plate and then use the outside corner to finish the at-bat.
"It just got away from me," Doolittle said. "I feel terrible about where I hit him and how I hit him and the fact that I even hit him, but he's a guy that's a good fastball hitter. You want to come inside and move his head a little bit, make him less comfortable in there, and it got away from me a little bit." Melvin said from his perspective it looked like Victorino was "diving pretty good looking for the ball away.
"A lot of times Sean's strength is pitching in. Usually he's pretty good inside. It's just a combination of all those things."
Little things added up for the A's in a well-pitched game Friday. The Red Sox scored the first two runs in a second inning in which the A's committed two errors and starter Jarrod Parker hit a batter. Parker then retired 15 in a row to get through the seventh.
After Iglesias singled in the eighth, Brock Holt put down a bunt that Doolittle fielded and turned to second base, where he appeared to have a play. But he opted to go for the out at first. Melvin said that was the right decision after the initial hesitation. Doolittle said he would have thrown to second base, but he lost his footing.
"Everybody was yelling two," he said. "When I fielded it and planted and set my feet to go to second base, I just slipped."
There wasn't much margin for error on this night. John Lackey held the A's hitless until the fifth inning and, after Boston broke the tie, former A's reliever Andrew Bailey and closer Koji Uehara combined for five strikeouts over the final two scoreless innings. It was the kind of close game you might expect from two teams that came in with the two best records in the American League -- a distinction that the Red Sox now hold by four games over the A's.
"They capitalized on some mistakes that we made, both in the field and when I was on the mound, and that's what a good team does," Doolittle said. "Any little thing that we did, they seemed to capitalize on it."
* Parker was wild early but found his command from the third inning on and had thrown just 93 pitches through seven. Melvin said he opted against sending Parker back out for the eighth because he "felt like (Parker) was a little bit tired.
"I didn't want to send him out there and get in a situation where his pitch count gets up there," Melvin said. "We have a chance to go with a clean inning (for the bullpen)."
Parker said he felt he could have continued, but it "was just in the better interest of the team to give the reliever a clean inning. If I go out there and walk the first guy, that's not smart."
It was a tough-luck no-decision for Parker, who has now allowed two or fewer earned runs in eight of his last nine starts. He allowed a leadoff single to Mike Napoli in the second inning, hit Daniel Nava and allowed both to score on a two-out single by Brock Holt. After that, he retired 16 batters in a row.
"He was missing by wide margins early on, and usually you don't see him do that," said Melvin. "Bouncing his changeup. And then all of a sudden he just found the right release point and everything clicked for him."
* Before recording the game-winning hit, Pedroia, the pride of Woodland High, made what Melvin said in retrospect was probably the play of the game on defense. The A's had runners on the corners with one out in the fifth inning when Josh Donaldson hit a one-hop bullet back up the middle. Pedroia dove to his right, backhanded the ball and started a 4-6-3 double play to preserve what was then a 2-1 lead.
"That's one of those momentum shifts that we're talking about," Melvin said. "We had a lot of momentum there, JD's up, he hits a bullet and as soon as he hits it you're thinking there's no way (Pedroia's) going to make that play. And all of a sudden it ends up being two."
The A's ended up tying the game on Jed Lowrie's solo homer leading off the next inning. But if Donaldson's ball gets through, it's a tie game with two runners still on and one out for Lowrie. Like we said earlier, the little things added up Friday night. None was bigger than a gem by the Red Sox's little general.
* One of the odder sights in this game -- in that second inning, Boston's Mike Napoli (an erstwhile catcher playing first base) tagging up from second on a fly ball hit to Yoenis Cespedes in left. Cespedes' throw is on line, but Donaldson can't handle the hop and Napoli slides in safely.
Next batter hits a fly ball to right field and Napoli starts down the line but does a 180 as Josh Reddick unloads a throw that carries catcher John Jaso about 15 feet up the line.
I couldn't tell whether Napoli turned back on his own or got a sign from Holt, who was on deck and would have been standing at the plate directing him. But the fact Napoli seemed game to test the two strongest arms in the A's outfield -- two of the stronger in the league -- was a bit surprising and a heads-up to the A's for the rest of the series.
* One pre-game note: Red Sox manager said right-hander Brandon Workman will start Sunday's game, which was previously a TBA for Boston. Right now he's scheduled to pitch against Bartolo Colon, who won't be eligible to pitch in the All-Star game if he does throw on Sunday.
Melvin was asked about that before the game and said any word from Colon on his All-Star status should come from the pitcher himself.
* Saturday night it's A.J. Grifin (7-6, 3.94 ERA) vs. Jon Lester (8-5, 4.60). The A's, who have lost consecutive games for the first time since June 22 and 23 in Seattle, will try to avoid their first three-game losing streak since they dropped five in a row May 6-10.