Watching Freddy Galvis’ drive to right-center field carry over the high green Coliseum wall and out of sight, A’s reliever Dan Otero sank into a crouch.
Two batters earlier, Otero had broken Cody Asche’s bat, only to see the Philadelphia Phillies’ third baseman fight the pitch into left field for a soft double in the seventh. Otero retired the next batter for the inning’s second out to bring up Galvis, who began the game batting .161 for the season and was hitless in his first two at-bats.
The count ran full, and Otero threw a high, tailing fastball that ran directly back over the middle of the plate. The left-handed Galvis crushed it for his fourth homer of the season and the decisive swing in the A’s 3-0 loss Saturday to the Phillies.
“I feel terrible,” Otero said afterward. “Right now, we know every pitch matters. You never know which one’s going to impact the game.”
But as manager Bob Melvin said after his team’s seventh loss in 10 games, the A’s issues run much deeper than one pitch.
“When you start nitpicking on one pitch, it means you’re not doing anything offensively to help out,” Melvin said. “That’s what it’s been lately. It’s been magnified, one or two pitches within a game, because we’re not offensively giving enough support.”
In the second inning, the A’s had the bases loaded with one out against Phillies starter Jerome Williams, the journeyman right-hander pitching for his third team this season. That brought up catcher Derek Norris, a .337 hitter this season with runners in scoring position. Norris grounded into an inning-ending double play.
“Jerome doesn’t really give in, so he’s going to give you something on the outer part of the plate,” Norris said. “I just didn’t let it travel far enough to hit it to the hole where I was trying to hit it for the base hit to right, and I just hit it right at him.”
But the problems also extended beyond one swing.
It was the third time in four innings, going back to Friday, that the A’s had loaded the bases against Philadelphia and not scored. After the second, the A’s managed just one hit the rest of the game – a fifth-inning infield single by Josh Reddick – while mostly facing a pitcher in Williams against whom their starting lineup entered with a career .374 average.
An offensive juggernaut for much of this season, the A’s have averaged 2.7 runs in their last 22 games, in which they are 6-16
“When you continually struggle, sometimes it affects your confidence, but that’s not an excuse,” Melvin said. “We should have confidence, based on the amount of runs that we scored earlier in the season. … And to go through as deep a drought as we have, that’s the question is, why is it so severe over the last month and a half?”
Melvin said that while parsing the A’s “approach” at the plate might be oversimplifying, there are some areas that seem to have changed teamwide.
“For the most part, we’re a team that makes the starting pitcher work, throw some pitches, (we) get some guys on base and that’s usually when we do our damage,” Melvin said. “We’ve probably been swinging a little too early for us, and that’s probably a byproduct of trying to do a little too much at a time when no one’s really swinging the bat well.
“And then when we do get in a count and we get a decent pitch,” he added, “we pop it up, or even if we make a decent swing on it, we’re not doing the damage we were earlier.”
The result: Mistakes such as Otero’s full-count pitch to Galvis become turning points. It made a winner of Williams, who threw seven scoreless innings and recorded his third win this season against the A’s – one as a reliever for the Houston Astros in April, one for the Texas Rangers in a July start and one for the Phillies. Williams is the first pitcher ever to beat the same team three times for three different clubs in one season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Wasted was a strong effort by A’s starter Drew Pomeranz, who made his first appearance since Sept. 2 filling in for Jason Hammel (away for the birth of his child) and allowed one hit in five scoreless innings. Operating on a lower-than-normal pitch count because of that layoff, Pomeranz weathered a 32-pitch first inning before retiring 13 of his last 14 hitters.
With the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners also losing Saturday, the A’s maintained a half-game lead over Kansas City, and a full-game edge over Seattle in the wild-card race.
“You can sit here and talk all day about the things we haven’t done well,” Norris said. “But one thing we do well is when we think we’ve hit rock bottom, we come back with a vengeance.
“We’re going to be there. We’re going to be there until the end of the season. We control our own destiny, and I feel like if we play the good baseball that we know how to play, we’re going to be there.”