It was inevitable that Sean Doolittle’s run of dominance would eventually end.
That realization didn’t cushion the shock of the A’s gut-wrenching 5-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Monday at Comerica Park. Doolittle took the mound in the bottom of the ninth with a 4-1 lead. Five batters later, he was walking off the field in dejection after Rajai Davis launched a 1-0 slider for a game-winning grand slam.
It was the first time in franchise history that the A’s gave up a walk-off slam when leading by three runs. Doolittle, who sports one of the game’s most dominant fastballs, registered a strikeout earlier in the ninth on a slider to Eugenio Suarez. He thought Davis looked vulnerable to a breaking ball himself, hoping to coax a grounder with the bases loaded.
Instead, the former Athletic turned on the 1-0 offering and crushed it over the left field wall to end Oakland’s four-game winning streak in heartbreaking fashion.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Tigers pounce A's with walk-off grand slam]
“For a guy that’s a really good fastball hitter, I wanted try to keep him off it,” Doolittle said afterward. “Then I just hung the crap out of it.”
Over 162 games, every team drops some contests that should have been in the bag. Every lights-out closer, and that description has fit Doolittle to a ‘T’, lets an occasional ninth-inning lead slip through their fingers.
But things can snowball fast for a reliever, and now Doolittle needs to rid himself of the bad vibes from blowing two saves in a row. On Saturday, he gave up a one-run lead to the Miami Marlins, though the A’s eventually prevailed in 14 innings. Surely he was looking to redeem himself Monday.
The A’s scored three times in the top of the eighth to command a 4-1 lead. But things took a rocky turn for Doolittle even before Davis stepped to the plate. After consecutive singles by Nick Castellanos and Alex Avila, Doolittle issued a one-out walk to Austin Jackson to load the bases. It was just the second walk allowed by Doolittle all season, and it came during a grueling nine-pitch at-bat that A’s manager Bob Melvin thought might have zapped Doolittle of some energy on a hot and muggy night.
“Those are the type of at-bats that can wear you down a little bit,” Melvin said.
Doolittle credited Jackson for hanging tough during the long battle.
“I could see him shorten up his swing with two strikes,” Doolittle said. “I thought I threw some good pitches with two strikes to him. I went away, went in. I elevated. It was just a really good at-bat by him.”
Said Melvin: “Any time you have a three-run lead, you feel great about (Doolittle) no matter what. He just didn’t get it done today.”
Doolittle entered Saturday’s game with a 24-outing, 26 1/3-inning scoreless streak. Now he’s wearing back-to-back blown saves, although he didn’t draw much of a parallel between Saturday’s outing and Monday’s.
“The other night in Miami, the results may not have been there, but my stuff was a lot better. They just made adjustments and got some hits. Tonight I was just inconsistent. I even walked a guy. For a lot of reasons, this one is a lot more frustrating.”