OAKLAND -- As Angel Castro warmed up to pitch the 11th inning for the A’s on Monday night, a graphic on the team’s TV broadcast displayed his season stats with a note: "0 home runs allowed." Which was true, albeit Castro’s body of work this season consisted of one outing, facing four batters last Saturday -- in his major-league debut.
Regardless, the stat didn’t stay current for long. Red Sox third baseman and former Giant Pablo Sandoval lined Castro’s third pitch over the right-field wall to break a 4-4 tie with what turned out to be the game-winning home run, and handed the A’s their sixth straight loss in the process.
Remarkably, six of the A’s last nine losses have come by one run, part of their 11 one-run losses overall. They’re also 0-6 in extra-inning games and 0-9 in games decided in last at-bats. Monday night, they led after the third, fourth and fifth innings, and gave all three of those leads back in another loss charged to the bullpen.
"It’s the same story here, it’s getting tough to explain," A’s manager Bob Melvin said. "It seems like we’ve played this game so many times this year, it’s almost a little bit surreal. But we’ve got to come out tomorrow and try to break through."
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The A’s at 12-22 are 10 games under .500 for the first time since they finished the 2011 season 74-88. As the losses pile up, A’s players seem to be at a loss to pinpoint why.
"I don’t know how many it’s been, but there’s quite a few games like this where we feel like we have control and then lose the lead, and then battle back, make the quality at-bat in the late innings and just don’t come up with the win," starter Scott Kazmir said. "It’s just frustrating as a team."
Kazmir pitched much better than his last two starts but described his six innings Monday as a "battle." He needed 111 pitches, a season high, and gave back one-run leads in the fourth and fifth innings. Kazmir did depart with a 3-2 lead, but the Red Sox went ahead 4-3 against reliever Evan Scribner in the seventh.
The A’s had looked poised to pad their lead in the sixth with runners on second and third and two out, but Coco Crisp’s liner was snared by Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli in the very tip of the webbing of his glove. The A’s tied the game in the seventh and neither team scored again until Sandoval’s home run leading off the 11th.
Scribner nearly escaped the seventh with the game still tied. With men on first and third, he got a potential double-play comebacker from Dustin Pedroia. Scribner fielded it and threw to shortstop Marcus Semien for the out at second, but Semien appeared to not get a grip on the ball for a relay to first, and the go-ahead run scored from third.
The A’s put their leadoff man on the 10th as Mark Canha drew a walk. But Brett Lawrie couldn’t get a sacrifice bunt down before flying out, and Canha had to steal second with two outs to get into scoring position. Eric Sogard popped out to end the inning. Sandoval had the decisive swing shortly thereafter.
"Just perpetual frustration," catcher Stephen Vogt said of the A’s close losses. "I guess the good part about tonight is that there’s not one thing we can peg it to. We can’t look back over the game and say, ‘This is why we lost.’
"We’re playing good baseball. I think that’s what’s so frustrating about losing all these one-run games. It’s not like we’re out there and we’re a bad team. Obviously, they just scored one more run than we did tonight."
* Sandoval’s return to the Bay Area had been rough up until his game-winning homer. He was hitless in four at-bats, striking out once and grounding into a double play, and continued to look out of sorts against left-handed pitching (now 2-for-31 this season).
Against the right-hander Castro, Sandoval swung wildly at a first-pitch splitter in the dirt for strike one, then fouled back a 94 mile per hour fastball. Castro tried to throw another high fastball and left it over the plate middle-in. Sandoval, the notorious bad-ball hitter, roped it off the facing just above the right-field wall for his fourth homer of the season.
"The pitch to Sandoval was right down the middle," Vogt said. "It was up, I haven’t had a chance to watch the replay to see exactly how high it was. I know not very many normal people are hitting that ball out of the yard like he did. But obviously it’s a missed location, trying to go up and away. He was able to get enough on it to get it out."
Melvin said that ahead in the count 0-2, Castro needs to expand the strike zone more -- especially against a hitter who covers as much of the zone as Sandoval. Castro wore his first loss, and the 10th charged this season to the A’s bullpen.
Sandoval had received his 2014 World Series ring from the Giants on Sunday night and talked to reporters about returning to the Bay Area before the game, a story on which can be found here. Of his game-winning homer, he said:
"It’s exciting and emotional getting the ring and hitting the homer to win the game. It’s a big day for me."
* Kazmir had allowed nine runs on 13 hits in 12 innings over his last two outings, so his line Monday was an improvement. But his inability to get shutdown innings after the A’s took leads in the third and fourth came back to hurt. Dustin Pedroia tied the game 1-1 in the fourth by scoring from first base on a David Ortiz single, and Mookie Betts hit a soft single after Blake Swihart’s double in the fifth to erase another short-lived A’s lead.
"Wasn’t as sharp as I’ve like, made some pitches when I needed to," Kazmir said. "But (I was) around the strike zone, couple pitches that weren’t as quality as I wanted."
Vogt was more positive about the outing, saying Kazmir was "outstanding."
"That was a really good start for him after he’s had a couple rough ones," Vogt said. "He had a couple unlucky breaks, a couple bloop singles that scored a couple runs.
"That stuff starts to get frustrating, too, when we’re lining out. Look at Coco’s at-bat (in the seventh), second and third, a chance to break open the game, Napoli makes a good play. But that’s how stuff has been going, and it’s getting frustrating."
* First baseman Ike Davis left the game in the fourth inning with what the A’s called a strained left quad. Davis doubled off Rick Porcello but was slow pulling into second and was taken out for a pinch runner after moving to third base on a Brett Lawrie single.
Davis said his quad had been tight previously and "just kind of flared up on me" Monday. Melvin said the injury "doesn’t look like a DL type of thing. Probably just a couple days, potentially able to pinch-hit."
* There was some good baseball in this nearly-four-hour game. On Ortiz’s RBI single in the fourth, Pedroia was running on the pitch and never slowed down rounding third while center fielder Billy Burns was a little slow getting the ball into the infield. In the 11th, the A’s prevented Boston from adding a run when Eric Sogard dove for Pedroia’s chopper up the middle and threw behind Jackie Bradley at third base for the third out.
After Napoli’s reflexive snag of Crisp’s line drive, A’s first baseman Max Muncy -- who replaced Davis -- made an almost identical catch on an Ortiz line drive to end the top of the seventh, leaving his feet in the process.
"Great plays," Melvin said. "Game of inches. Coco’s ball on the tip of Napoli’s glove -- that’s two runs if it gets down in the corner. We’ve seen a lot of this, where it’s been a few inches, one way or another."
* Game two of the series has A’s left-hander Drew Pomeranz (1-3, 5.12) facing Red Sox right-hander Justin Masteron (2-1, 5.18). First pitch at 7:05 p.m.