OAKLAND Losing baseball has a certain inevitability to it. You can feel it and dread it from the first inning. You know the mistakes you've been making have cost you games, but you make them anyway.
You fail to put the ball in play to hit a simple fly ball to the outfield when you have a runner on third with no outs. You make foolish pitches when you're ahead 0-2 in an ultimate pitcher's count. You don't make plays. You run yourself out of a critical inning by breaking for the plate when the smart thing calls for waiting and thinking.
That's when you get punished with a terrible call made by the plate umpire. That's when the hitter who kills you is a guy hitting below the Mendoza line.
That's when you're the A's, losers of an infuriating 5-3 stinker to the lowly Seattle Mariners on Wednesday. It meant Oakland dropped a series to a lousy outfit in a set of games where the A's didn't even face Mariners ace Felix Hernandez.
It meant the A's went 4-5 on what was supposed to be a get-well homestand featuring the Mariners and the horrible Astros, who also took two of three from Oakland. It means the A's are 8-10 in August as they leave for Baltimore today and a critical set of games against some of the best teams in the American League.
Losing at home to some of the worst left A's manager Bob Melvin fuming. Reporters didn't even have to ask him what just happened.
Melvin came out firing: "Everything we did today is what is wrong with us. It was an ugly, ugly game, and it's been going on for a while."
That it has. The A's blew a comfortable lead in the American League West against the Texas Rangers and have shown no signs of reconnecting with the vibrant, audacious team of 2012 and the first half of this season.
Wednesday was a classic example of why Oakland is reeling.
After Coco Crisp led off with an electrifying home run, shortstop Jed Lowrie tripled.
Seattle starter Hisashi Iwakuma was primed for the taking. But what followed were three at-bats by the "heart" of the A's order that were nothing if not hapless. Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedes need to hit if the A's are to reach the playoffs.
But Donaldson and Cespedes struck out, and Moss hit a meek grounder back at Iwakuma.
In a sense, the game was over. That failure of simple execution hung over the remaining eight innings like a specter. The A's scratched and fought never lacking in effort but in a sport where games and wins come down to moments, the A's were as they've been for a while a beat short and a brain cell shy.
A's starter A.J. Griffin was a study in blood pressure-spiking inconsistency. In some moments, when he was focused and executing, Griffin was striking out seven and looking dominant.
In others, he was leaving lollypop offspeed offerings up in the zone, and Seattle sluggers Michael Morse and Brad Miller took him deep, negating a Moss home run and an Alberto Callaspo sacrifice fly.
The killer was the 0-2 pitch Griffin fed to Seattle shortstop Brendan Ryan. The A's held a 3-2 lead in the sixth. There were two outs. And somehow, it didn't seem a surprise when Ryan crushed Griffin's pitch. Donaldson, the A's third baseman, might have fielded it but didn't.
Two runs scored, the second in a violent collision at home between A's catcher Stephen Vogt and Dustin Ackley of Seattle. Ackley appeared to be out, but plate umpire Chad Fairchild called him safe as Vogt writhed in pain from getting his legs cut out from under him and slamming his head against the ground.
Somehow, it seemed to figure. Then, when Ryan squeaked a single through the infield in the eighth, it was 5-3 Seattle. Even with the two hits, Ryan's average stood at .194.
Cespedes had a decent game at the plate, but Donaldson had a brutal day with no hits and three runners left on base on top of missing Ryan's smash.
Second baseman Eric Sogard ran the A's out of the seventh inning by breaking for home plate too soon and getting tossed out in a rundown.
"You have to grind it, and we're not getting it done," Melvin said.
With the season hanging in the balance and games running out, the question is: Who are the A's?
We find out now.