In for John Hickey this weekend …
Not much novel to say about this one, other than it was a weird 4:15 p.m. start. Felix Hernandez did yet another number on the A’s. He’s 15-6 against them lifetime, 2-0 this year, and hasn’t given up a run to them in 14 2/3 innings with just two walks and 16 strikeouts.
That wasn’t surprising. The real surprise was the game’s big blow, by 41-year-old journeyman catcher Henry Blanco, who turned on an A.J. Griffin first-pitch inside fastball in the sixth inning and hit a grand slam, his first in more than 13 years in the big leagues, and with his 11th big league team.
Griffin was as surprised as everybody else in the house. The pitch was pretty much where he wanted it, up and in, but Blanco has been around the block. He figured Griffin didn’t want to fall behind with the bases full, and would try to get ahead with a fastball.
“It was a pretty good pitch,” Blanco said. “I was just trying to get a pitch where I could drive in some runs, and I got a grand slam. I wasn’t looking for it, but I was thinking he was trying to get a fastball in for the first strike, and I was trying to be aggressive. He had already thrown me a lot of inside pitches. And I got him.”
Griffin has pitched pretty well this season but has had issues with big innings and damaging home runs. The one he allowed to Blanco was his 14th in 14 starts. He gave up just 10 home runs in 15 starts with the A’s last year.
“I was just trying to get a weak contact and Henry was looking for a well-placed fastball,” Griffin said. “He hit it and it went out.”
Griffin said there was little solace in executing the pitch he wanted to throw.
“It’s easier to accept, but at the end of the day, it’s four runs on one pitch,” he said. “When you’re facing a guy like Felix, every run counts a little bit more. It’s tough to take that. It’s really frustrating. I felt like my changeup was really good today. John (Jaso) and I were doing a really good job of mixing it up for the most part, and one pitch can do that. He came up clutch for them, and I’m kind of at a loss for words.”
Said manager Bob Melvin, “He had a chance to get out of it. I thought he was throwing the ball pretty well most of the game. The ball was down and he had a good curveball and threw some good changeups. He just made a pitch in to Blanco and he turned on it and hit a homer.”
Tough as it was to take, it was kind of fun to see a moment like that for a guy like Blanco. He’s clearly at the end of his career, but he looked like a rookie as his Mariners teammates mobbed him in the dugout.
What’s remarkable is that the A’s have done so well at home and also against the A.L. West, but Seattle has been such a thorn. They are 20-10 against the division, but six of those losses have been to the Mariners. They have just 12 home losses, but four of those are to Seattle heading into Sunday’s series finale.
They get the Mariners — and Felix again — next weekend in Seattle after a four-game series in Texas. Then the Reds and Cardinals come to town to finish the month. So this will be a telling stretch for the A’s.
The best news is that Josh Donaldson and Coco Crisp were back in the lineup, and Yoenis Cespedes is at least in the lineup as the DH. The A’s need their full complement of players through this stretch. The down side is Donaldson is mired in his first slump of the season (1-for-21) and Cespedes hasn’t really hit a hot stretch yet. Josh Reddick, who had the day off Saturday, is still feeling his way.
Bartolo Colon Sunday, looking to go 8-2. Can he continue the magic? The A’s could use some before heading out on the road.