SEATTLE – The A's most frustrating trip ended in a most frustrating fashion Sunday when the Mariners' Kendrys Morales clubbed a three-run homer off closer Grant Balfour as Seattle took a 6-3, 10-inning win.
Balfour was beside himself after the game, as much for the strikeout and wild pitch that set up the Mariners' rally as for the home run pitch itself.
Catcher John Jaso tried to take some of the blame for not blocking Balfour's pitch in the dirt to Mariners rookie Mike Zunino and for not making a better throw to first base once he recovered the ball. Balfour wasn't buying it.
"I don't know if he can block it any different," Balfour said. "You're thinking it's a strikeout and there are two outs and you've only thrown six pitches."
Instead, Zunino was safe at first base, soon to be at third base on a Michael Saunders single.
"It happened pretty quick," Balfour said.
The veteran designated hitter smacked the first pitch Balfour threw him, a fastball that caught too much of the plate. The pitch was low.
The result was a towering fly that Morales golfed into the right-field stands for the second walk-off homer of his major-league career.
The first came against the Mariners when he was playing for the Los Angeles Angels in 2010. He injured himself in the celebration at home plate in that May 20 game, and he's been trying to climb back to his same physical stature ever since.
The A's know something about that drive to climb back to former heights. Ten days ago they were the hottest team in baseball. Then they lost two of three to Seattle in Oakland, three of four to the Rangers in Texas and two of three again to the Mariners this weekend.
"It wasn't a very good trip for us," manager Bob Melvin said. "I wasn't expecting 2-5. We don't want to make too much of it, just take a day off and recharge."
The seven-game swing through the American League West was particularly tough on the Oakland bullpen. The seven games saw the relievers throw 20 innings, giving up 15 runs. Four of the five losses went to relievers.
The A's have a day off today, games against the Cincinnati Reds in Oakland on Tuesday and Wednesday, then a day off Thursday. After three games at home next weekend against the St. Louis Cardinals, there's yet another day off next Monday. That's incredible largesse for a team that just finished a stretch playing on 30 of 31 days.
The bullpen has been overworked for much of the last 10 days, one reason the A's were 16-4 in their first 10 games of the 31-day stretch and 3-7 in the last 10 games.
Balfour said that wasn't his issue. He only pitched three times in the 10-day stretch.
"I wasn't fatigued," he said. "Ask the other guys. But I didn't throw that much."
Balfour was being used in a non-save situation, in part because, Melvin said, "I wanted my best pitcher in there," and in part because the A's haven't had many save situations in recent days. So Balfour was also his freshest reliever.
"I'd like to forget today," Balfour said, "but it won't be easy."
The same could be said about the trip as a whole.
Notes: The A's optioned starter Dan Straily to the River Cats because the club won't need a fifth starter until July 6.
Straily could be recalled at that time – he'd be the favorite, in fact, to move back into the rotation – "but nothing is guaranteed to you in this game," the pitcher said.
The A's will wait until today or Tuesday to decide on who will be called up to take Straily's place. It's likely to be a position player, because the bullpen will be rested come Tuesday, and there's no need for another starter.
For the third consecutive game, Jaso wasn't able to start because of an abrasion suffered on his left palm. He was feeling well enough to pinch hit and stay in the game to catch the final five innings. He said the abrasion still hurts when he swings.
Starter Jarrod Parker allowed just five hits in his seven innings, but two of them were homers to Raul Ibanez. Parker has a streak of nine consecutive quality starts.