Tanner Roark took the mound in the bottom of the seventh last night with a 3-1 lead over the A’s in Oakland Coliseum and promptly surrendered a single on a line drive to center by Jed Lowrie and a two-run home run to left field by Khris Davis.
Davis jumped on a first-pitch change and bounced the game-tying blast off the left field foul pole, 3-3, but Roark managed to avoid further damage and finish the frame.
Washington responded with a three-run home run by Ryan Zimmerman in the top of the eighth, 6-3, and Nationals’ skipper Dusty Baker decided to send Roark back out to the mound at 88 pitches overall.
Roark retired the first two batters he faced, but Matt Joyce lined a two-out single to center and scored on an RBI double by Chad Pinder, 6-4.
At that point, Baker turned to Koda Glover, with the potential tying run at the plate, and Glover retired Jed Lowrie on a groundout to first base.
Glover then sat for 25-30 minutes as the Nationals scored five runs in the top of the ninth, with home runs by Matt Wieters and Michael A. Taylor, and a two-run single to left by Daniel Murphy.
The top of the ninth went on for so long that Glover went to the “bullpen”, throwing a few pitches as the Nats’ half of the ninth continued.
Baker sent him back out for the ninth with the score 11-4, and Glover struggled, giving up four straight hits and a bases-loaded walk that made it 11-6. That was it for Glover.
Shawn Kelley took over and retired the first batter he faced, one down, but Matt Joyce took a slider up in the zone for a ride to right for a grand slam that made it a one-run game, 11-10. Kelley got the next two outs, but it was closer than expected in the end.
So what did Baker make of his bullpen’s struggles?
“Well, my take on is it that that’s American League baseball,” Baker said. “You know what I mean?
“A lead is never safe because they’re used to coming back and having a big inning.
“Especially offensive clubs that can hit the ball out of the ballpark. We didn’t walk guys to get to that situation, they hit us.”
“You’re probably wondering why I didn’t take Koda out,” Baker continued, “because it’s American League. Any games that I’ve seen with big comebacks has been, most of the time, American League. They continue to hit and these guys can hit and they hit the ball out of the ballpark, so you never know which run is going to be the run that wins the game.
“You seemingly think you’ve got the game in hand and in the bag, but you never do and that’s why we always urge our guys to keep playing. It was big -- Zim hits his home runs and Michael’s home run ended up being the game winning.”
Glover ended up throwing 22 pitches to the six batters he faced. He wasn’t making any excuses when he talked about his struggles after the game.
“That can’t happen; (it’s) on me,” Glover said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman:
“I went out that second inning, tried to stay focused, broke a couple bats. And that’s how this game is. That’s why this game sucks. I tried to get through it, couldn’t do it...”
Glover got the big out the Nationals needed in the eighth.
If it was still close after the top of the ninth, sending him back out makes sense, but once the Nationals blew it open, should Baker have gone to another reliever to finish the A’s off? There’s an argument to be made, though the Nats’ skipper didn’t see it that way.
Baker was asked if it was hard for a reliever/closer to get up for another inning after entering the game in a tough situation, then come back out with a big lead?
“But you have no choice,” he said.
“What choices to do you have, you know what I mean? We didn’t want to use up a whole bunch of our bullpen either.
“Since he was already warm, already loose, he went back down and threw some more, but they got hits. There’s not always a reason or excuse why.”
Would the Nationals have been better off getting Kelley warm and handing him the ninth? Was it on Glover to go back out in a non-save situation and get the job done?
Arm-chair managing is always questionable, hindsight 20/20, etc., but what were you thinking at the time? If you were Baker, how would you have handled the bottom of the ninth?