The A’s clawed back valiantly Thursday afternoon, only to experience eventual heartache.
Sean Rodriguez delivered a walkoff three-run homer off Luke Gregerson in the bottom of the 11th as the Tampa Bay Rays beat the A’s 5-2 to close a three-game series at Tropicana Field.
The A’s took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the 11th and had the Rays down to their last strike before Tampa Bay tied it off Dan Otero. Gregerson relieved Otero with runners on the corners and two outs and served up a 2-2 pitch that Rodriguez hit just inside the left field foul pole for the game-winner.
The loss snapped the A’s five-game winning streak and it marked just their second loss in the past 13 games. They are 5-1 on this nine-game road trip, which concludes with a weekend series at Toronto.
It was shaping up as yet another improbable win for the A’s, who tied the game in the top of the ninth on Yoenis Cespedes’ RBI double. Cespedes then put Oakland ahead in the top of the 11th with a sacrifice fly.
Starting pitching report
A’s starter Sonny Gray was terrific, giving up just one run over eight innings and holding the Rays to five hits. He struck out three and walked two in an incredibly efficient outing and worked deep into the game because he had multiple innings of fewer than 10 pitches.
Gray has made 10 starts this season and worked at least six innings and given up three or fewer runs in every one of them, the longest such streak to start a season by an A’s pitcher since at least 1914. The right-hander also continued his stinginess away from Oakland. In five starts on the road, Gray has a 1.25 ERA (5 ER in 36 IP).
He also provided more evidence of why he’ll likely get Gold Glove consideration, when he pounced on Desmond Jennings’ bunt in the seventh and threw to second to get the force out.
Otero (4-1) came on in the 10th and was trying to close out a two-inning stint for the victory. But he gave up Desmond Jennings’ full-count RBI single to tie it with two outs in the 11th. Then Gregerson came on and gave up the game-winner. Otero wound up getting charged with the first loss of his big league career.
At the plate
After winning with just one hit Wednesday, the A’s mustered just three hits through the first eight innings Thursday. Then they broke through in the ninth against Grant Balfour, the former Coliseum favorite who signed a two-year $12 million deal with the Rays over the winter. He entered the day with a 5.71 ERA and immediately found trouble when John Jaso singled and Josh Donaldson walked to start the inning.
After Brandon Moss struck out, Cespedes delivered a game-tying double down the left-field line, his first hit of the series. That left runners on second and third, and Balfour intentionally walked Jed Lowrie to load the bases. It paid off, as Josh Reddick’s fly ball to left was too shallow to score Donaldson from third, and Alberto Callaspo flied out to keep it 1-1.
In the field
The Rays had loaded the bases with three singles off Gray in the third when Reddick added to his extensive highlight reel. He went back to the warning track and made a leaping catch against the wall to rob Wil Myers, losing his hat but holding on to the ball to end the inning and keep Tampa Bay off the board.
Gray got nice support throughout the afternoon from his defense. Jed Lowrie, who returned to shortstop after missing two games with a sore neck, made a couple of nice plays on grounders his way.
A replay review worked in the A’s favor big-time in the bottom of the ninth. Desmond Jennings tried to steal second with two outs and the game tied and was called safe despite a strong throw from catcher Derek Norris. Second baseman Eric Sogard immediately signaled to manager Bob Melvin to request a review. The call was overturned, Jennings was out and the game went to extras.
The A’s head north of the border for their only road series against the Toronto Blue Jays. Friday -– Scott Kazmir (5-1, 2.39) vs. R.A. Dickey (4-4, 4.20), 4:07 p.m.; Saturday –- Jesse Chavez (4-1, 2.54) vs. TBA, 10:07 a.m.; Sunday –- Drew Pomeranz (4-1, 0.94) vs. J.A. Happ (3-1, 4.37), 10:07 a.m.