The Oakland Athletics finished in last place in 2015, and most projection systems said that they were likely cellar-bound again this year. So at first glance, they seemed like a good opponent for the Yankees to rebound against, particularly at home. Well, that plan went horribly. Instead, the Yankees were swept away and dug themselves a deeper hole, thanks to a rare bullpen meltdown.
The game started with some excitement, as Jacoby Ellsbury made a diving catch on a Mark Canha drive to right-center field. That play probably saved a run with the agile Billy Burns on first. It also allowed the Yankees to get an early lead against Rich Hill.
Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez worked back-to-back walks to lead off the bottom of the second. Chase Headley smoked a line drive off Hill's glove and toward second baseman Jed Lowrie. The runners had to freeze, so Lowrie easily could have cut A-Rod off at second. Instead though, he narrowly threw Headley out at first, and Aaron Hicks made the decision costly. The switch-hitter followed with a single to score Teixeira with the first run. Amazingly, it was only the Yankees' third hit in the previous 52 at-bats with a runner in scoring position.
The A's struck back in the fourth when Luis Severino began to catch too much of the plate. Josh Reddick doubled to right and Jed Lowrie singled him in to tie the game. Stephen Vogt smacked a single of his own, and Severino was in serious trouble. That was when Aaron Hicks, last night's defensive hero, came up big with another gem:
Spurred on by the crazy catch, Severino struck out both Khris Davis and Coco Crisp to end the inning.
In the home half of the fourth, the Yankees were the recipients of some good fortune. With one out, A-Rod walked, built a decent lead and bolted for second base on Hill's first move. However, Hill's move was to first and he had A-Rod picked off, but his throw was wild. A-Rod moved all the way to third base and ended up giving the Yankees a 2-1 lead on a slow infield dribbler by Austin Romine that went for a hit. Baseball!
Severino surrendered a solo homer to Canha that tied it at two runs apiece. He worked into and out of trouble, but he still managed to turn in his best outing of the early season. He gave up seven hits but only allowed the two runs while walking none and fanning four batters. Hill was even tougher, striking out 10 Yankees over his six innings, though four walks and his error cost him.
It seemed like a fine idea for Joe Girardi to bring lefty Chasen Shreve into the game to start the seventh. He had been tremendous over his first few games and had not yet allowed a run. Sadly, it was September Shreve who showed up tonight. Davis crushed his first homer of the year over the left-center field wall and Crisp took Shreve's very next offering into the second deck in left. Suddenly, the A's had a 4-2 advantage and with the Yankees looking as punchless as they have been over the past week, it felt all but over.
With Hill out of the game, Girardi emptied his bench against righty reliever Fernando Rodriguez in the seventh. (He had gone with a righty-heavy lineup with Hill pitching.) Brett Gardner led off with a pinch-hit walk, but fellow pinch-hitters Brian McCann and Didi Gregorius had no such luck. Ellsbury singled through the left side though, giving Starlin Castro a chance to drive in a run. Castro came through with a base hit up the middle, scoring Gardner to make it 4-3. A's skipper Bob Melvin called in John Axford for the last out, and he induced a grounder from Carlos Beltran to end the inning.
The one-run margin did not last. Shreve was not the only previously reliable reliever to give up a bomb. Johnny Barbato entered to keep the score intact. It appeared that he would as he retired the first two batters before walking Vogt. Chris Coghlan made the two-out walk hurt by lifting a Yankee Stadium Special over the right field wall for a two-run homer that effectively iced the game. Kirby Yates allowed another run in the ninth and Ryan Madson closed out the victory.
If one is looking for a silver lining, the last two times the Yankees began the season 5-9 were 2005 and 1997. As noted earlier today, they made the playoffs in both years. This year is far from over and the Yankees will try to bounce back starting tomorrow night with the Rays coming into town. CC Sabathia will face Matt Moore at 7:05pm.