The A’s took a five-run lead into the seventh inning Friday night with the American League’s ERA leader on the mound, yet were left at the end of the night dazed and trying to explain a 12-7 loss.
The explanation could be boiled down to a few numbers. Four: the number of pitchers the A’s used in the top of the seventh. Three: the number of errors they made in the inning. Thirty-six: the number of minutes that half-inning lasted. And eight: the number of runs the Los Angeles Angels scored as the game took a nightmarish turn for the home team.
The A’s had leads of 3-0, 4-1 and 7-2 behind right-hander Sonny Gray, who’d entered the game with a 1.60 ERA. Gray departed with the lead intact, but watched an inning he had helped create spiral out of control.
Gray came out for the seventh inning at 97 pitches having sat through a long bottom of the sixth as the A’s scored two runs. He walked Erick Aybar. Then he walked Johnny Giavotella. The A’s bullpen started to stir, but manager Bob Melvin left Gray in to face Matt Joyce, who hit an RBI single, and Chris Iannetta, who singled to load the bases with still nobody out.
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"I probably left him in a little too long," Melvin said afterward. "We always feel like with him, we’re one pitch away, and he’s our best guy."
Melvin finally took Gray out after Iannetta’s at-bat, with the A’s still leading 7-3. Drew Pomeranz walked Efren Navarro to force in a run, and after Pomeranz struck out Kole Calhoun, Melvin summoned Edward Mujica to face reigning MVP Mike Trout.
Mujica had just been activated from the disabled list earlier in the day. Melvin said before the game he didn’t think Mujica would need a "soft landing" -- a lower-pressure situation for his first outing back -- and this certainly was not that.
Trout hit a sharp line drive to left field that Ben Zobrist broke back on, reached out for, and dropped. It was ruled a sacrifice fly and an error, making it a two-run game with the bases still loaded. The next batter, Albert Pujols, lined Mujica’s 1-1 pitch over the left-field wall for a grand slam.
"The pitch was down," Melvin said. "(Pujols) just got the barrel on it."
Melvin reiterated after the game he had no doubts about bringing Mujica in to face Trout and Pujols, who hit his league-leading 20th home run, for Mujica’s first major-league batters since May 21.
"We brought him in here for a reason," Melvin said, "to pitch deep in games. The one to Trout, if we catch that maybe it’s a little different. But still, he hit a pretty good pitch that was down in the zone."
Zobrist said he felt like he’d done all he could on the Trout liner.
"I think it had a little side-spin on it, it wasn’t a true back-spin ball," Zobrist said. "But I mean, I knew it was hit hard, and was just trying to get back on it. And I got back to it, the ball just popped out of the glove. There’s not really anything else I can do in that situation. It just didn’t stay in there."
After Pujols’ 13th career grand slam put the Angels up by two, the A’s unraveled. Mujica made a throwing error on a bunt single by Aybar that sent Aybar to second. Evan Scribner picked Aybar off trying to steal third, but third baseman Brett Lawrie simply dropped Scribner’s throw before he could apply a tag.
It was the second error of the night for Lawrie, who also misplayed a routine grounder in the fourth that led to an unearned run, and the fourth overall by the A’s. It raised their season total to 69 in 70 games.
"Yeah, we weren’t very good defensively today," Melvin said. "We had been better here recently. And you’re not going to win many games when you make four errors."
Aybar scored after Lawrie’s second error -- the second run scored by Aybar in the seventh -- and the Angels added two runs in the ninth, as Eric O’Flaherty allowed three doubles and a walk before being taken out with his season ERA now at 9.00. It made for 10 unanswered runs scored by the Angels and a quiet A’s clubhouse on Fireworks Night at the Coliseum.
"You’ve got to give them some credit, they smelled blood and they didn’t stop," catcher Stephen Vogt said. "Obviously, we’ve got to take better care of the ball on the defensive side. And you know, a team like that, when you give them more than three outs in an inning, they’re going to take advantage.
"Especially when you give them five or six in one inning."
* Gray afterward shouldered responsibility for starting the snowball in the seventh. Gray battled command issues for much of the night, but had limited the damage to an RBI double by Giavotella in the second inning and an unearned run in the fourth.
"I was kind of fighting myself the whole night," Gray said. "I didn’t feel great from the beginning, I didn’t have my best stuff. I was kinda just trying to fight through the game."
Gray said he felt "OK" coming back out for the seventh, but walked the first two hitters on 10 pitches. He said he could sense that "give (the Angels) a little bit of hope."
"I just kind of let it get away there," Gray said. "I put the bullpen in such a bad spot. It’s kind of -- you can’t put anything on them. You come in with the bases loaded and no outs in a tight game -- I mean, not a tight game, but those runs are important, and they’ve got pressure pitches going on.
"I put them in a bad spot. I put the team in a bad spot. And it’s kind of -- this is one of the tough ones."
Gray, who had allowed just four earned runs over his previous five starts, was charged with five earned runs Friday and six overall. His ERA rose from 1.60 to 1.95, still the lowest among A.L. starters. It was just his fourth career start allowing six or more runs, and his first this season.
"He just battled all night," Vogt said. "Just unfortunately lost his command for a little while in the seventh. But he pitched unbelievably for what he had. It’s unfortunate."
* Gray did dodge a potentially devastating moment in the fourth. With two outs, Matt Joyce hit a line drive back up the middle that looked like it might have caught Gray in the face had he not snapped his glove up in time. Gray’s quick reaction resulted in a harmless inning-ending lineout.
"I don’t even really know what happened," he said. "That was more reaction -- try not to die on that one. I’m just glad I caught it."
* The A’s lost for just the fourth time this season when scoring seven or more runs and the second in a nine-inning game. Much of their offensive production came from Vogt and Zobrist, who combined for two home runs, two doubles and six RBIs.
Vogt has reached base safely in all 31 of his home games this season, the second-longest streak by an Oakland A’s player to open a season behind Rickey Henderson (33) in 1993. Zobrist is 10-for-20 with 11 runs scored and eight RBIs over his last six games.
"We played really well early in the game, we had a good lead going into the seventh," said Zobrist. "We made some mistakes, everybody, all across the team in that defensive side of the inning. They took advantage of it, and sometimes that’s the way it goes."
* Billy Burns, meanwhile, had a three-hit game in which his hits traveled a total of about 270 feet. Burns beat out three infield singles, giving him a league-leading 19 infield hits on the season, and raised his average to .323, second-highest among A.L. rookies behind the Rays’ Joey Butler.
"Yeah, he’s fast," Melvin said.
* The A’s don’t have long to dwell on this loss with a day game Saturday. Game two of the series has A’s right-hander Jesse Hahn (4-5, 3.62) facing Angels right-hander Jered Weaver (4-7, 4.65). First pitch at 1:05 p.m.