Glen and Ray: Little things magnified in September
Josh Willingham has hit seven home runs and driven in 17 runs in 10 games against the A's over the last two seasons. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
Alberto Callaspo's home run gave the A's a lead that Ryan Cook eventually relinquished. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
Josh Willingham picked up where he left off last season in dishing heartache for the A’s.
The former Athletic, who feasted on Oakland pitching last season, dealt his old team a stunning blow Tuesday with a two-run homer that sank the A’s 4-3 in the opener of a three-game series.
Willingham hit a 2-0 pitch from Ryan Cook into the second deck in left field in the eighth inning to erase a 3-2 Oakland lead. It marked Willingham’s second homer of the night and his seventh against the A’s in the last two seasons. He’s driven in 17 runs in 10 games over that span.
The slugging left fielder hit 29 homers for Oakland in 2011, his only season with the team. With one swing in the eighth inning, he provided a sour start to the beginning of the A’s six-game road trip. Adding salt to the wound, the Texas Rangers lost to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, meaning the A’s lost a chance to increase their division lead to three games.
Jarrod Parker turned things over to his bullpen after six innings and seemed on track for his 10th straight victory. It wasn’t meant to be, as the A’s saw their three-game winning streak snapped.
Starting pitching report
Parker was not in top form, but he got through six innings and gave up just two runs. That ran his unbeaten streak to 19 consecutive starts, extending his Oakland record and bringing him to within two of Lefty Grove’s franchise record.
The Twins took a 1-0 lead on Josh Willingham’s second-inning homer, on which Parker hung a breaking ball right over the plate. Things got dicey for the right-hander in the bottom of the sixth. With the A’s up 3-1, Parker served up a monster homer to Oswaldo Arcia. A single and two walks loaded the bases with one out, but Parker coaxed a 4-6-3 double play from Pedro Florimon to end the inning and preserve a one-run lead.
It marked the first outing in which Parker allowed as many as two homers since June 23. But he still turned in a quality start on a night when he didn’t have his ‘A’ game.
Grant Balfour’s recent shakiness in the closer’s role has been a hot-button issue for Oakland lately. He never got a chance to enter in the ninth inning of this one.
Sean Doolittle took over for Parker and turned in a 1-2-3 seventh inning. He handed things over to Cook with a man on and one out in the eighth. But Cook fell behind 2-0 to Willingham and piped a fastball that Willingham crushed. Cook (6-4) hadn’t allowed a run in his previous six outings.
At the plate
The A’s were held down early by Minnesota right-hander Liam Hendriks. But Alberto Callaspo’s two-run homer in the fifth put them ahead 2-1. They added to their lead in the sixth when Josh Donaldson singled and came around to score on Yoenis Cespedes’ single.
But Cespedes proceeded to make a baserunning blunder that proved costly in the one-run defeat. With men on first and second and one out, he tried tagging and advancing to second on Callaspo’s fly ball to medium-deep center. He was easily thrown out, snuffing out an inning that could have potentially been bigger for the A’s.
In the field
The double-play ball has been lacking for Oakland this season – the team entered the night having turned just 102 double plays on the year, the fewest in the majors. But Callaspo and Sogard did well to turn the inning-ending play in the sixth. Callaspo, however, couldn’t make the play on two hard-hit balls to his left that went for singles.
An announced crowd of 26,017 showed up to Target Field for the first meeting between these teams this year.
An interesting stat on Sonny Gray (2-3, 2.51): He’s allowed 11 of his 15 runs in the first two innings of a game. The rookie takes the mound Wednesday night against Minnesota right-hander Mike Pelfrey (5-11, 4.97). First pitch will be 5:10 p.m.