Melvin: When you don't score the pitcher has to be perfect
OAKLAND – Rarely will a team get served the carbon-copy feeling of disappointment that the A’s endured Thursday night.
Once again they were bounced in Game 5 of the American League Division Series, losing to the same team (Detroit Tigers) and the same pitcher (Justin Verlander) while generating the same number of runs (zero) as was the case in last year’s ALDS.
But as the A’s disperse and go their separate ways following their 3-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers, surely they’ll take different emotions from this season than they did in 2012.
Last year’s playoff elimination merely provided the ending to a joyride of a season that no one expected would include a division championship. This year, the A’s brought different expectations into the postseason.
Just being invited to the party wasn’t enough, so being shown the exit after the first round left a much more bitter taste.
“When you see the same guy do it to you as last year, it’s kind of hard to watch, I must admit,” A’s closer Grant Balfour said. “It’s tough. I felt like everybody probably was pressing a little bit. Everybody wants it so bad, it just didn’t come to us.”
It was tough to tell if A’s hitters were really pressing, or if they were just plain dominated by Verlander. He gave up just two hits and struck out 10 over eight innings, running his postseason scoreless streak against the A’s to 30 innings.
That’s the longest playoff scoreless streak by a starting pitcher against any one team in major league history. Let that one sink in.
And while it seemed a re-run of Verlander’s four-hitter at the Coliseum last October, Josh Reddick said the pitcher dissected the A’s differently this time.
“I think he established his off-speed early, and that’s something we rarely see Justin do,” the A’s right fielder said. “He didn’t leave anything on the table. He threw change-ups, curve balls, and when he needed to he pumped it up to 96, 97 (mph). You gotta tip your cap. At the same time, we don’t want to.”
The A’s struck out 57 times in five games, setting a League Division Series record. Surely it’s no consolation to Reddick, but he no longer holds the A’s record for most strikeouts in a postseason series. That now belongs to first baseman Brandon Moss. He whiffed 13 times in five games, eclipsing the mark of 10 set by Reddick last season.
Moss was frank in discussing his struggles at the plate during the series.
“You get in that hole those first couple games where I was swinging and missing a lot, and that gets in your head a little bit,” Moss said. “You start to wonder why you’re swinging and missing so much at pitches you normally hit. That sits in the back of your mind and those thoughts just breed the results.”
On the pitching side, there were the frustrations of rookie right-hander Sonny Gray. Chosen to start Game 5 over veteran All-Star Bartolo Colon, Gray wasn’t terrible, allowing three runs over five-plus innings. But he was hardly the same pitcher who electrified the home fans with eight shutout innings in Game 2.
Gray, who suffered a broken left thumb while fielding Prince Fielder’s comebacker in the fifth, walked four over 98 pitches. Many wondered why he wasn’t throwing his curve ball more, but Gray said his fastball was at the heart of his problems.
“I wasn’t throwing my fastball where I wanted,” Gray said. “I was trying to get that back, to get a feel for it. It really just never came and it kind of took my curve ball out of play. I took it out of play myself, just because their reactions are gonna be different if I’m not throwing strikes with my fastball.”
Gray will eventually look back on this season as a tremendous learning experience, a stepping stone in what looks to be a very promising career.
For his team as a whole, Thursday’s disappointment surely will linger for a while. That’s because the A’s were looking to squeeze more out of the 2013 season.
“We’re a great team, a World Series-caliber team,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “Obviously we didn’t get it done.”