Murphy's Law: A's rally in ninth to complete sweep of Tigers
Detroit – Matthew Boyd didn’t want to use the term snake-bit to describe what happened in Oakland on Sunday – that would be too convenient, too much like an excuse.
“It's just how it happened,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it was luck. We were just on the wrong side of opportunities.”
The Tigers ended up on the wrong side of opportunities in four straight games in Oakland. This last one, a 3-2 walk-off gut punch in the bottom of the ninth, was crueler than the others.
The winning run was set up when center fielder Victor Reyes lost Matt Olson’s fly ball in the sun.
"Unfortunately, the timing was bad for them to get a base runner that way," manager AJ Hinch said. "Victor plays center field well and he broke on the ball perfectly. But the ball found the sun."
With two outs, left-handed pinch-hitter Mitch Moreland knocked a two-strike pitch from lefty Gregory Soto that third baseman Jeimer Candelario couldn’t come up with to give the Athletics their 21st win in the last 23 games against the Tigers.
“Everything that could go wrong did go wrong in this four-game series,” Hinch said.
Boyd dominated the Athletics through seven innings, allowing just two hits. He was carving the Athletics’ up with change-ups and curveball thrown off his precisely-located four-seam fastball.
And the Tigers took a 2-1 lead into the eighth on the strength of a two-out, two-run single by Harold Castro in the sixth. The Tigers had six hits in the game, three by Castro.
But Boyd missed his spot with a 91-mph heater to Sean Murphy leading off the eighth. And Murphy became the first hitter in 101 plate appearances to hit a home run off Boyd this season.
“I wasn’t trying to go middle down,” Boyd said of his location on that pitch. “I was trying to go away. That wasn’t the only mistake I made. I made one to Elvis Andrus (fly out) and to Mark Canha (single). That happens. Sometimes they go for a ball or a strike, sometimes they end up in a glove and sometimes they land on the other side of the fence.
“Unfortunately, that ended up being the difference in the game.”
It was the first time Boyd had worked into the eighth inning since July 31, 2018. But he was at 82 pitches and in complete control.
“Zero,” Hinch said when asked if there was any discussion about sending Boyd back out for the eighth. “He was dealing and doing everything right. I had zero reservations about sending him back out.”
Boyd hit Aramis Garcia and gave up a single to Tony Kemp with one out, setting up a dramatic episode for right-handed reliever Jose Cisnero. He last pitched in the ninth inning in Houston on Wednesday and didn’t record an out (two walks and a single).
So this was a show of faith from Hinch, and Cisnero rewarded him by striking out Canha and Ramon Laureano, featuring 98 and 99-mph fastballs and knee-locking slider.
“Velocity and execution,” Hinch said. “Facing two right-handed hitters that are very dangerous against all pitchers but specifically against left-handers, that was the perfect spot for him and he did a great job like he’s done a number of times the past couple of years.
“I know he’s struggled some here early, but he’s one of our guys.”
Cisnero gave way to Soto in the ninth and his fastballs were hitting 100 mph. He struck out Jed Lowrie and got Olson to sky one to center. Earlier in the game Reyes nearly lost a fly ball from Kemp, but at the last second caught a glimpse of it and caught it.
This time, he wasn’t within 10 feet of the ball when it dropped.
“It’s always really bad in the day here, really bad,” Castro said. “I can tell you because I played here in centerfield in 2019. It’s pretty tough to see the ball when the sun is right there.”
But even after that, it looked like Soto was going to get out of it. He struck out Chapman and then, after walking Murphy, he was in good position to put Moreland away. Moreland was 0 for 6 against lefties this season and he was barely getting a piece of Soto’s 99- and 100-mph sinkers with two strikes.
On the third one, though, he slapped it to the left side. The exit velocity off his bat was 102.5 mph but the expected batting average on the ball was just .260. Candelario seemed crossed up on the ball and it got by him. It was scored an error.
“It’s tough,” Castro said. “These things happen. You just have to keep playing hard, keep fighting.”
Tough one to swallow all the way around.
“Matt was as good as he’s been and he’s been good all year,” Hinch said. “Boyd did everything he could. He’s going to get on the plane with a bad taste in his mouth because of the way it finished but there was a small margin for error today and their guy hit a ball out of the ballpark.
“It was a good baseball game today. They just did a little more than we did.”