If you want to break down the difference between winning and losing for the A’s and the Cardinals Sunday at the Coliseum, you have to look to the seventh inning.
You have to look at the run the Cardinals did not get and the run that the A’s did score.
After six innings, the A’s had a 6-5 lead and had dipped into the bullpen for lefty Sean Doolittle. The Cardinals got a leadoff double from Matt Carpenter, who looped a ball down the left field line in wide-open turf and suddenly the Cardinals’ high-powered offense was primed with the National League’s leading hitter, Yadier Molina, at the plate.
It had been a tough series for Molina, 1-for-12 at that point to dip under .350. He had aspirations of changing that with a pop fly to right that no one seemed likely to catch. Carpenter, convinced he was going to score the tying run, raced to third base, then waited.
What he saw was A’s second baseman Eric Sogard race from the infield deep into the outfield to make an over-the-shoulder catch. It was one of three spectacular defensive catches by the A’s including also a diving catch in left-center by center fielder Coco Crisp and a roll-over-the-infield tarp catch by third baseman Josh Donaldson.
Moments later Donaldson, batting with two out against Cardinals’ setup man Trevor Rosenthal, homered to right, just the third homer off Rosenthal this year. It pushed the lead to 7-5, which is where the game’s scoring ended.
“That was an unbelievable bit of defense there,’’ A’s reliever Sean Doolittle said of Sogard’s catch. Doolittle was completely invested in the play, trying to protect a one-run lead. “That matches up with Coco’s diving catch and Josh on the top of the tarp.
“That’s where the game was won. He came into no-man’s land to catch that ball. That and the homer were the Cardinals’ last gasp. But the results could have been different if the inning didn’t work out the way it did.’’
Shortstop Jed Lowrie was kidding Sogard after the play, saying he didn’t get enough on the throw back to the infield to double Carpenter off second base.
“I was trying to will that throw to get to me faster,’’ Lowrie said. “But it was an absolutely incredible play. I know for a fact Carpenter thought it was a hit all the way. When you factor in the range and the winds and the sun, it’s hard to make a play tougher than that.’’
–Donaldson’s defensive wizardry came in the fourth inning, and from a videographer’s perspective, it may have been the most ESPN-prone of the three plays.
With two out and two on, Carpenter hit a foul ball headed toward the seats. Donaldson, a converted catcher who has become a stellar defender at third, tracked the ball all the way.
He never took his eye off the ball, and that meant when he caught it, he had but a fraction of a second to clamp down on the ball before hitting the tarp and rolling over the top of it.
He’d let a ball drop in the sun earlier in the game that led to a run, so for Donaldson this was payback.
“The first one was a tough play in the sun,’’ he said. “ I was hoping to make up for it. When he popped that ball up, I tracked it all the way. But I didn’t know where the tarp was.
“I felt if I took my eye off the ball, I’d never pick it up again. So I never took my eye off it. There was a lot going on with the sun and the wind moving that ball around.’’
And so Donaldson did a bump and roll after the catch.
“It felt like one of my old high school football hits,’’ he said of his assignation with the tarp.