For all their struggles this season, one area where the A’s had performed well entering Wednesday was hitting with runners in scoring position. Their average of .301 in those situations ranked second in the American League and third in the majors.
But in keeping with the theme of inconsistency that’s plagued the A’s this season, it was their failures in that area that defined their 2-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday. The A’s went hitless in 14 at-bats with runners in scoring position -- 10 of them against starter Wade Miley in the first four innings -- and wasted a strong outing by Sonny Gray in losing for the seventh time in eight games.
The 0-for-14 mark tied the third-most hitless at-bats w/RISP in the Oakland era, two off the record set by the A’s in 2006 against the White Sox. The A’s still have not won back-to-back games since April 13 and 14, a span of a month.
The A’s put men on second and third with one out in the first inning and with two outs in the second inning and stranded them. Marcus Semien led off the third with a triple -- and was left 90 feet away. Josh Phegley doubled with one out in the fourth but didn’t advance beyond second.
"It seemed like as the game went along we started pressing a little more," manager Bob Melvin said. "We missed some situational opportunities early on that could have at least gotten us tied … So I think that was one of the keys is we didn’t come through in those situations."
Josh Reddick came up in the first with runners on first and second and moved them up by grounding out to first base. But he was left unsatisfied by that at-bat, and by his next -- he batted after Semien’s triple in the third and popped out to the second baseman.
"That run can’t stay at third," Reddick said. "Got to do a better job, bottom line.’
Not in the lineup Wednesday was Stephen Vogt, the A.L. RBI leader who is 15-for-30 on the season with runners in scoring position. Vogt stayed on the bench until the bottom of the ninth, when he pinch-hit with two outs and nobody aboard. Vogt drew a walk but was stranded when Eric Sogard grounded out to end the game.
Melvin credited Miley with overcoming some early wildness by using his changeup and slider to re-establish his fastball. "But we had some opportunities early on," Melvin said, "and that’s where, like I said, you get those opportunities early in the game, don’t come through, now you start to press a little bit. That’s just the way it felt."
Reddick was asked if hitters started pressing in the later innings and said he didn’t think so. "I don’t see a whole lot of it," Reddick said. "We’re still making them throw pitches and just not executing. That’s the bottom line, is nobody was able to execute today."
* Frustrating the A’s further was how the Red Sox scored their lone run off Gray. Hanley Ramirez singled in the second inning and took second when a swinging third strike got past catcher Josh Phegley. Daniel Nava then hit a two-out flare to left field that dropped between Coco Crisp and Brett Lawrie, scoring Ramirez.
Gray allowed just one other hit while striking out nine in seven innings, and retired the last 13 hitters he faced. He lowered his ERA to 1.61 -- and still took his first loss of the season.
"I don’t know how you pitch much better," Melvin said. "Similar to every game he’s pitched this year. We just didn’t give him enough support, so it’s tough."
Gray said the most frustrating part about the loss was, "that it was more or less a game that we really needed to win. We obviously didn’t, but it was one that we felt really good about going into, and we just came up short today."
Left unsaid was the A’s probably felt good about Wednesday because they had their ace going against Miley, who came in 1-4 with a 6.91 ERA. Gray has now allowed one run or fewer in six of his eight starts this season. But while the A’s put Miley on the ropes early, they were unable to capitalize.
"We had chances, we had a lot of chances," Gray said. "Miley kind of made really good pitches when he needed to and got out of some trouble there. But I thought we had chances. We’ve just got to be a little bit -- get a few of those runs in, and hopefully next time we will."
* A rare offensive highlight for the A’s was Coco Crisp getting his first hit with an infield single in the fifth inning, snapping an 0-for-26 streak to start the season and an 0-for-39 dating back to last season. Melvin said he hopes that now the hit is behind Crisp, he can "just move on" with the season, already shortened by his elbow surgery.
"It’s nice to get that one hit," Crisp said. "I need a couple more to come with it. But just go out there, I’m going to give it my 100 percent every time I step in the box."
Crisp also made two excellent diving catches in left field and looks comfortable there for a player who’s just making the transition after playing mostly center field the past several seasons. Crisp, though, said he’s still feeling out the position, and pointed to Nava’s flare single Wednesday as a play he "would have made" with more experience in left.
* On the other end of the defensive spectrum, Marcus Semien had his throwing error on Tuesday night changed to an error on first baseman Max Muncy. But Semien then made another high throw in the eighth inning Wednesday, and this time there was no doubt of the scoring. Semien’s 11th error, which leads the majors, also led to the Red Sox adding an insurance run off Evan Scribner in the eighth.
If you missed it, infield coach Mike Gallego talked to The Bee at length yesterday about Semien’s error total and the work they’ve done with the young shortstop on his throwing. Semien has a habit of not throwing over the top, which creates lateral movement on his throws, and the A’s have worked with him to correct that.
Wednesday, though, Semien ranged to his backhand for a Dustin Pedroia grounder in the hole and had to set quickly and throw off his back foot. The throw sailed way above first baseman Mark Canha, and Nava scored from second base on the play.
Semien called it "one bad throw," and said after the game there’s no real link between his errors this season. "There’s been relay plays, there’s been plays in the hole, there’s been all different kinds of plays," he said. "My focus just needs to be on hitting that guy in the chest, and just work harder to do this."
The error was the A’s 36th in 36 games, and it extended their streak of consecutive games with at least one error to 11. It has Melvin puzzled.
"If you look at our games, we make some errors, but we make some great plays on top of it," he said. "So it’s not like we’re a wholesale bad defensive team -- we’re just not very timely in it."
* The A’s still have yet to win a series at home. They’re off Thursday before the Chicago White Sox arrive for a three-game series beginning Friday. The pitching probables:
Friday: RHP Jesse Hahn (1-3, 4.73) vs. RHP Hector Noesi (0-3, 6.06)
Saturday: RHP Jesse Chavez (1-3, 2.56) vs. LHP John Danks (1-3, 5.12)
Sunday: LHP Scott Kazmir (2-1, 2.78) vs. RHP Jeff Samardzija (2-2, 4.80)