Tuesday afternoon, A’s manager Bob Melvin was arguing that shortstop Jed Lowrie, owner of a .228 batting average entering the night’s game against the Giants, has been the victim of “some tough luck” offensively in the first half – but that he hoped Lowrie having multiple hits in three consecutive games was a sign his luck is changing.
Lowrie then came up for his first at-bat Tuesday against left-hander Madison Bumgarner and hit a blooper into right field that fell perfectly between Hunter Pence and Joe Panik for a single. The type of hit Lowrie has rarely found this year ignited a four-run inning for the A’s that keyed their 6-1 win in Game 2 of the Bay Bridge Series.
The rally, in which Bumgarner threw 32 pitches and the A’s batted around, also included softly hit RBI singles by Yoenis Cespedes (a flare to center that fell between three Giants) and Derek Norris (a chopper through the infield). But they were still the type of hits the Giants could not get. The Giants went 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position, and they have scored one run in the first 18 innings of the series.
“It’s real frustrating,” Bumgarner said of how the third inning unfolded. “It’s hard to watch other teams, seems like they can break their bat and get a hit – they’re hitting balls hard, too – and then our guys, everybody’s crushing the ball and it just seems like it’s always right at somebody.
“It’s the way the game goes. But man, it’s a frustrating time.”
The first two games of this series have underscored the different trajectories these teams are on. The A’s have won 17 of their last 23 games and own the majors’ best record (57-33). The Giants (49-41) have lost 20 of 27 games since June 9 and have baseball’s worst record in that span.
Put another way, the teams had the same record of 43-28 on June 17. Since then, the A’s are 14-5, while the Giants have gone 6-13. The series shifts to San Francisco tonight, but that’s not necessarily as comforting for the Giants as one might expect – they are 3-14 in their last 17 games at AT&T Park.
The A’s are also in the midst of a remarkable run of starting pitching, continued Tuesday by right-hander Sonny Gray. In their last six games, all wins, A’s starters have thrown a combined 40 innings, allowed four earned runs on 25 hits and struck out 41. In all six, the starter has gone at least six innings and allowed no more than one run – an Oakland-era record.
“Once starters get on a roll like that, they’re really kind of competing with each other and pushing each other,” Melvin said. “The next guy wants to be the guy to go out there and do just as well, if not better. So it becomes kind of a fraternal thing.”
Gray on Tuesday pitched around a one-out double from Pence in the first and back-to-back singles by Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse leading off the second, partly by striking out six of the first 10 hitters he faced. He finished with eight strikeouts, one shy of his career high.
The A’s staked him to a 4-0 lead in the third, with Lowrie’s single seeming to spark more than just a rally. The next batter, Alberto Callaspo, hit a soft fly ball to right that Pence caught charging on a slide. As he returned to his position, Pence, who’d missed Lowrie’s hit trying to avoid Panik, cupped his ear toward the right-field bleachers and motioned for the fans there to get louder.
“They were a lot of fun out there, man,” Pence said. “They’re rowdy, they’re loud. … They were razzing me a little bit. I went and kind of made a play, just a little fired up.”
The fans responded, first with chants of “Pence, you (stink),” then cheers that got louder as the A’s mounted their rally.
And just as quiet, for a second consecutive night, were the bats of Pence and the Giants’ lineup. Thanks to Tyler Colvin’s homer leading off the seventh, the Giants avoided being shut out for the second game in a row and fifth time in nine games.
“We’re playing a good club,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “Against this team, you have to play your best ball. I don’t think we’ve done that.”