OAKLAND -- A’s outfielder Sam Fuld acknowledged that how the A’s 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Angels unfolded Tuesday night followed "one of the major themes of the last month and a half or so."
The A’s saw Sonny Gray allow two runs -- one earned -- in seven innings while setting a career high with 12 strikeouts. They put runners on in every inning from the third to the eighth, loading the bases with two outs in the eighth. And they couldn’t muster the timely hit to score those runners, leaving eight men on base while going 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.
"We definitely had our opportunities," Fuld said. "And you’ve got to take advantage of that."
Especially, one might argue, with Angels left-hander Wade LeBlanc making just his third start in the majors this season. LeBlanc started the season with Triple-A Salt Lake, was actually placed on waivers by the Angels and claimed by the Yankees in June, and started Tuesday night due to injuries in the Los Angeles rotation.
The A’s pushed just one runner past second base against LeBlanc in his 5 1/3 innings. In the fifth, Josh Reddick hit a one-out double and moved to third on Geovany Soto’s flyout to center. Eric Sogard tried to drag-bunt for a hit and placed it well, away from LeBlanc and first baseman Albert Pujols, but second baseman Howie Kendrick made a nice play to barehand it charging in and throw out Sogard diving headfirst into first base.
"He felt like that was his best chance, to sneak it by (LeBlanc) and get a run in," manager Bob Melvin said.
Nothing else was working. The A’s best scoring chance after that came in the eighth, as they loaded the bases with two outs against reliever Joe Smith for Stephen Vogt. Vogt, though, flew out lazily to right field.
"One or two more hits and it’s a different game," Melvin said. "Our at-bats got better as the game went along. And again, we had plenty of opportunities with at least one hit to tie the game."
"It’s frustrating not to get the win, for us and for (Gray)," Vogt said. "He went out there and threw the ball well and gave us an opportunity to win. And obviously I left a small village of runners in scoring position tonight. It was just really frustrating."
Vogt and Fuld both credited LeBlanc with mixing pitches well and staying away from the middle of the plate. "Typically, against a guy like that who’s kind of a junkballer … how you take advantage of those guys is when they make mistakes over the plate," Vogt said. "And he didn’t do that tonight."
Still, after breaking through for 16 runs in their last two games, the A’s reverted to their offensively-challenged selves of the previous 10 games, when they totaled just 19 runs. Inconsistency has been the A’s bane over the last month and a half. They have not won three consecutive games since Aug. 7-9 against Minnesota, and are now 14-27 starting Aug. 10.
Fuld said the notion of carrying "momentum" from one good offensive performance into the next day can be overblown. But Vogt acknowledged the yo-yo effect -- reflected in the standings -- is "frustrating, absolutely."
"But just because we didn’t have offense tonight doesn’t mean our offense isn’t good," Vogt said. "I think we’re playing good baseball right now. We just didn’t get hits when we needed them tonight.
"We’re having good at-bats, but just weren’t able to come through with the hit ,and that’s baseball."
* The game story delves into Gray’s bad luck with run support this season. The A’s have scored two or fewer runs in half of his starts this year, and that seems to be a key number for Gray. In his career, he’s 2-12 when the A’s score two or fewer runs for him, and 16-1 when they give him three or more.
"Anytime you get a great pitching performance like that, it’s frustrating to not reward him," Fuld said.
Coming off a rocky start against Texas, Gray was sharp from the outset. He allowed a double Kole Calhoun leading off the game, but struck out Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Kendrick in order en route to striking out eight of the first 11 hitters he faced.
"He was up for it today," Melvin said. "You could see when he came in the dugout there was a look in his eye, he was going to get after it … He had everything working today."
That included Gray’s little-used slider, which the right-hander said "felt good today, so I threw it." He had particular success early on getting the Angels hitters to chase breaking pitches in the dirt, and said his "fastball had good movement, breaking pitches I was putting where I wanted. So overall, felt pretty good."
Gray matched his previous career high of nine strikeouts by the end of the fourth and became the first A’s pitcher to strike out 12 in a game since Dan Haren on Aug. 27, 2006. Still, he fell to 1-7 in his last 11 starts since the end of July. The A’s have won just twice in Gray’s starts in that stretch, and that seemed to bother him most Tuesday night.
"We lost. Whatever I did wasn’t good enough, so (my line) doesn’t matter," Gray said. "I’ve said it before, all that really matters is winning."
* Melvin before the game described Angels shortstop Erick Aybar as "a serious thorn in our side ever since I’ve been here." The second inning was a prime example. Aybar hit a single, swiped second on a delayed steal and took third as Geovany Soto’s throw sailed. After Efren Navarro walked, Gray struck out Hank Conger, but with Narvarro running on the full-count pitch, Soto threw to second rather than looking Aybar back to third. Aybar sprinted home to score before the A’s could tag Navarro out in a rundown.
"He’s fast. He puts so much pressure on the defense, as you could see there tonight," Gray said of Aybar. "He has good baseball instincts, and he’s just so quick, it’s tough."
Melvin was asked about Soto’s decision to throw through and said, "There was some miscommunication there. Aybar was coming down the line pretty good, and we need to stop the runner (from third) there."
It was a rough sequence for Soto, who otherwise had a strong defensive night. He threw out would-be basestealers at second in both the sixth and seventh innings, and blocked several pitches in the dirt to help Gray.
* One bright spot for the A’s -- Reddick had a three-hit night and is now 7-for-12 on the homestand after going 2-for-21 on the A’s last road trip.
* When Gray has allowed home runs this season, he has done a good job of limiting the damage they’ve caused. Of his 15 home runs allowed, 13 have come with no runners on base.
Gray said his 1-0 fastball to Beckham was meant to be away, "And I looked at it, and it was away. I got a ton of outs with that pitch tonight. Just that one, he got."
* The bad news for the A’s: Kansas City won and is now tied with Oakland for the top wild-card spot. The good news: Seattle lost again -- the Mariners’ fourth in a row -- so the A’s magic number to clinch at least a berth in the wild-card game is now three.
As a reminder, the A’s lost the season series to the Royals, so if those two finished with identical records and played in the wild-card game, the game would be in Kansas City. But that’s still a week away.
First comes the A’s regular-season home finale tomorrow afternoon. Jon Lester (16-10, 2.41) takes the mound for Oakland against left-hander Hector Santiago (5-9, 3.98) for Los Angeles. First pitch at 12:35 p.m.