By Sheldon Ocker
Beacon Journal sports writer
OAKLAND, Calif.: Not for the first time have the Indians regretted a trip to Oakland Coliseum, and not because it’s one of the most unattractive ballparks in the big leagues.
The Tribe’s objections have nothing to do with aesthetics, at least not the architectural kind. Beating the Athletics in their home facility has been a difficult task for some time.
Consequently, losing 7-3 Sunday was nothing particularly new for the Indians.
Over the past 10 years, the Tribe is 13-25 visiting the A’s, winning two out of 12 series. The Wounded Wahoos went into Sunday’s series finale with a chance to win two out of three and after falling behind, rallied to tie. No matter, the A’s knew exactly what to do.
“We fought our way back in it then gave up two solo home runs,” manager Terry Francona lamented.
Scott Kazmir was the victim of both long balls in the fifth inning, Chris Young hitting the first on a 3-and-2 count with one out and Alberto Callaspo going deep on an 0-and-1 pitch with two out to snap a 3-3 tie.
One baseball truism: If a team scores, don’t let the opponent nullify the rally in its next at-bat.
The Tribe scratched for two unearned runs in the top of the fifth with the help of an error by Callaspo at third. Taking advantage of the blunder were Jason Kipnis, who had an RBI single, and Carlos Santana, who delivered a run-scoring double.
So it was essential that Kazmir (7-6, 4.39 ERA) hold the A’s in their next at-bat. He didn’t, and that was the game.
“That was the big thing,” he said. “We busted our butts to tie the game up, so it was really important to have a set-down inning, and I didn’t have it.”
Kazmir was given an extra three days between starts, because of a tired arm; he called it a “dead arm,” like pitchers often complain about in spring training. The additional time off seems to have regenerated his arm strength, but he wasn’t sharp.
“I felt fine,” he said. “I just wasn’t able to hit my spots like I wanted to, especially early in the game.”
Francona also thought Kazmir’s “dead arm” was a thing of the past.
“He just didn’t command real well,” the manager said. “I think the layoff was good for his velocity.”
But maybe Kazmir’s control was adversely affected by the additional days off. Of course, you can’t have it both ways. If the goal was to give Kazmir’s arm life, it apparently worked. If it softened his command, that’s the breaks.
“I feel like I prepared myself to get ready for the start,” Kazmir said. “It just wasn’t my day. I got a lot of pitches up.”
The Athletics struck for two runs in the first and another in the second to put Kazmir in a 3-0 hole. He never did retire the side in order and was removed after the fateful fifth, having been charged with five runs, 10 hits and two walks, throwing 102 pitches.
Ryan Raburn homered with nobody on in the second to put the Indians on the scoreboard, and they used the Callaspo error to rally in the fifth.
But they were 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position, and Young made a crucial catch to rob Michael Brantley of a double and possibly an RBI that could have gotten the Tribe back in the game.
With two out in the eighth and Asdrubal Cabrera on first, Brantley whacked a drive that sent Young twisting and turning and backpedaling to the track in center. He snagged the ball as if it were going to tear his arm from its socket as he careened off balance toward the wall.
“That play on Brantley was unbelievable,” Francona said.
Nick Swisher failed to catch a routine throw from Cabrera on ground ball to help give the A’s two unearned runs in the eighth. The error ended all reasonable hope that the Tribe would rally, but with only three outs to catch up, the misplay only served to turn a two-run loss into a four-run loss.
“It looked to me like Swisher looked down at the bag and just lost the ball,” Francona said.
The A’s have a 4½-game advantage on the Tribe for the second wild-card berth. For the record, the Tigers lead the Indians by seven games in the race to win the Central Division championship.
“They outplayed us,” Francona said. “Good players make good plays at times. For us to beat good teams, we have to play better than them. It’s pretty simple.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.