The A’s made the most impetuous decision of the postseason in starting Sonny Gray over Bartolo Colon in Wednesday’s Game 5, choosing a rookie over the guy who finished second in the AL in ERA based on one excellent performance.
And how’d the follow that up? By treating Game 5 against a completely dominant Justin Verlander as if it was a typical mid-May, regular-season game. You just know that Rays manager Joe Maddon would have pulled out all of the stops tonight. A’s manager Bob Melvin pulled out none of them.
I’ll admit, I often criticize the other way in October. Managers tend to overdo it and try to force the action. Heck, Jim Leyland was guilty of that tonight when he had Jhonny Peralta and Prince Fielder working a two-strike hit-and-run with Fielder on first in the second inning. It turned into a strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out double play.
Melvin, though, did nothing. After Gray gave up a two-run homer to Miguel Cabrera in the fourth, Melvin waited until Gray loaded the bases to get someone, anyone up in the pen. In an elimination game. With guys like Jerry Blevins and Jesse Chavez completely unused in the series and pretty much guaranteed of never taking the mound in the sixth through ninth innings of the game.
Gray got out of the inning and was sent back out for the fifth, an inning that started with a walk to No. 9 hitter Don Kelly. Melvin stuck with Gray anyway and was rewarded with a scoreless inning. At that point, I’m not sure anyone expected Gray to be sent back out for the sixth, but there he was. Two singles later, he was done. Dan Otero came in and nearly pitched out of the jam, only to give up a run when Josh Donaldson and Alberto Callaspo couldn’t quite work a double play.
Then there’s the offense. I don’t know how complicit Melvin is here, but it was simply astonishing that no A’s hitter tried to test the hobbled Miguel Cabrera by bunting down the third-base line. Cabrera played Coco Crisp to bunt, but if anyone else could have dropped one down with any touch, it would have been a single. Now, I can’t imagine laying a bunt down against Verlander is an easy assignment, but it has to have a higher success rate than most of the swings the A’s were taking.
Of course, all that being said, none of it really matters. Verlander was better than the A’s, and there’s nothing Melvin could have done that would have changed that outcome. I thought Colon should have started tonight (with Gray ready to step it at any sign of trouble), but the rookie did just fine on the big stage. If Gray had been pulled earlier and if the A’s could have picked up a bunt single or two, maybe they would have lost 2-1 instead of 3-0, but they still would have lost.