Oakland, Calif. — Now where did that masterpiece go? It was here a moment ago.
As is often the sequence in stunning losses, for the want of an out, the advantage was lost.
For the want of the advantage, there went the game.
When and where did you get the first bad feeling about Wednesday night’s 3-1 Tigers’ loss to the Oakland A’s?
The biggest bad feeling, of course, came when Josh Donaldson drove a Joe Nathan slider far over the fence in left with one out in the bottom of the ninth for a game-deciding home run.
But there were uh-oh moments leading up to Donaldson’s blast as the A’s ninth inning didn’t look like the first eight in any way.
Anibal Sanchez had been magnificent through the eighth, so much so that with a pitch count of only 100, he was allowed to go back out and try to nail down a complete game.
It would have been the first of the season for the Tigers.
But as you know by now, it wasn’t.
Sanchez took a 1-0 lead to the mound with him in the ninth, Torii Hunter’s eighth home run in the fourth still standing as the only run of the game.
And while manager Brad Ausmus said “it was only a one-run game, and one-run games aren’t guaranteed” it looked as if Sanchez had it well in hand.
“He said he felt good,” said Ausmus, “and had pitched very well. He’d had everything working.”
The first at-bat of the bottom of the ninth was an extended one for pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo. He ended up grounding out routinely to Ian Kinsler at second, but it took nine pitches for him to do so — including seven after Sanchez had pulled ahead with a 0-2 count.
With Nathan warming up by then, Sanchez knew he’d probably not stay in the game if the A’s put a runner on — which turned out to be true when Coco Crisp doubled to left with one out.
“Even if it had been a bloop to left, that probably would have been it,” Ausmus said.
Was that the first uh-oh moment?
Enter Nathan with the tying run on second.
Or was that?
Even Ausmus called it a “tough spot (for Joe) with no margin for error. But that’s part of the game I guess.”
Nathan was very frank about what kind of welcome can await a closer after an effective starter has been knocked from a game.
“I think we’ve seen a lot of times that when someone comes in from the ’pen after a guy has been throwing so well, the other team kind of takes a breath and says, ‘at least we got him out of the game,’ ” he said.
“That’s also one of those spots where you want a starter to get it done because of how well threw the ball.”
What happened next is that on a 2-2 count after 0-2, John Jaso hit a liner to third that had to be caught, and looked like it was going to be, but wasn’t.
Instead of the second out, or even a game-ending double-play if somehow Crisp could have been doubled up at second, the ball got past Nick Castellanos for a single that resulted in a first-and-third threat.
“Maybe if Nick catches that ball, it’s a different inning,” Ausmus said. “It was kind of a change-up, so his depth perception was thrown off.”
Castellanos admitted the ball should have been caught, though.
“It was moving a little bit, but definitely a catchable ball,” he said. “It caught the tip of my glove.”
Nathan said it changed everything.
“That was the big out, getting Jaso. I think it would have changed a lot of what that inning ended up being.
“It changes how you can pitch to (Donaldson). It gives me a chance to play with him a little bit,” Nathan said. “When we didn’t get him, it puts you in a tough spot.
“It kind of forces me to go after one of the better hitters in their lineup.”
Donaldson went deep on a first-pitch slider that clearly wasn’t where Nathan wanted it to be. The long drive flirted momentarily with hooking, but was hit too well for the Tigers realistically to hope it would go foul.
Instead of winning 1-0 with a praise for a pitching gem, the Tigers lost — but justifiably praised the gem all the same.
“Definitely the best outing of the year so far,” Castellanos said Sanchez, who allowed only three hits and struck out nine. “He pitched perfect.”
Around the horn
Rajai Davis exited with a bruised left shoulder after making a diving catch in center, “but we don’t think it’s anything long term,” Ausmus said.