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Bob Melvin gets bailed out by overpowering Verlander

Oct 10, 2013, 11:37 PM EDT

Bob Melvin Getty Images

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.

  1. bender4700 - Oct 10, 2013 at 11:48 PM

    Hindsight? A’s win, it’s called a great decision.

    Go with the hot hand, Gray crushed the Tigers in game 2 (Verlander crushed the A’s), A’s got the win. Colon gave up the only runs the Tigers needed in the 1st inning game 1.

    Easy decision.

    • eightyraw - Oct 11, 2013 at 1:20 AM

      There is no hot hand. How is not choosing the pitcher who was near the top of the league in preventing runs an easy decision?

  2. APBA Guy - Oct 11, 2013 at 12:02 AM

    Disappointing end to a fine season by the A’s, but not a surprising end. This was basically a repeat of last year’s ALDS with a slightly better A’s team against a Detroit team that featured too much starting pitching for the A’s.

    Melvin will be second-guessed for the Gray over Colon decision. A’s watchers will not be surprised that his offense-forward infield was unable to convert the double play in the 6th that permitted the 3rd Tigers win.

    It doesn’t matter. The Tigers have big money players who can deliver high-level results on the big stage. Watching Scherzer and Verlander throw 3 gems in the 5 games, with a hobbled Cabrera homerun in the deciding game, just illustrates the gap.

    The A’s are a fun, well coached team with guys who play their hearts out. They’ve everything to be proud of.

    • historiophiliac - Oct 11, 2013 at 12:18 AM

      Great, great series. I was prepared to be majorly depressed after the game. I can’t imagine there being any better playoff baseball than what we’ve seen here already. Great competition.

      • jlovenotjlo - Oct 11, 2013 at 12:38 AM

        sshhhh

      • historiophiliac - Oct 11, 2013 at 7:56 AM

        *whispers*

        Because we’re in a mausoleum?

    • historiophiliac - Oct 11, 2013 at 12:20 AM

      And, in all fairness, our team was improved this year too — so, it was a tougher match up all around.

      • APBA Guy - Oct 11, 2013 at 12:50 PM

        Missed this thread last night after my comment. Too busy pouring and drinking.

        Histroio, congrats again to Detroit. Your guys will have their hands full against Boston. Unlike the A’s those guys not only can hit, they can catch the ball too. But Detroit’s starters will have a big edge. So this will be a “toss up” series, with breaks and heroics deciding it.

        The local papers were funny this morning. The “big deal” non-event of the series was the successful avoidance of sewage embarrassment at the Mausoleum. Which only means that the platoon of trained cheetahs did its job in culling the giant rat population. Hats off to the animal trainers.

        On the field, for the A’s to progress, the list of needs is long. A true, reliable # 1 starter, more offense in the OF, a top fielding SS, a new closer (assuming Balfour leaves as an FA). Some of that can maybe be home-grown. But the A’s will have to do a better job by the deadline also.

        We don’t know what constraints the G & P Beane has had placed on him. We do know that Callaspo as your “big splash” is not going to be sufficient, if as seems the case, getting through the ALDS means getting past Detroit and it’s star players every year.

      • clydeserra - Oct 11, 2013 at 3:44 PM

        SS is my top priority for the A’s. I think as always pitching depth. Sound like Slusser thinks Anderson will be back, I am hoping for Colon too (price being right).

        I think Choice slides in as #4 OF as Young is bought out, Doolittle slides in to the closer spot, then otero and cook can fight out set up roles. Qualifying offer to Balfour, the he will reject.

        Then go to Hawaii and relax

  3. riverace19 - Oct 11, 2013 at 12:04 AM

    You know what Matthew? You sound like such an idiot amateur second guessing things that didn’t go well… BUSH LEAGUE.
    The A’s lost this series in game 4. Melvin has managed back to back excellent seasons so go back and find something creative.

    • paperlions - Oct 11, 2013 at 7:37 AM

      Agreed. When after every game there is a “what I think this guy did wrong” piece it comes off as sky-is-falling-hind-sight-a-posteri-non-sense. Gray was picked as the starter days ago. Think it is a bad decision, say so between the decision and the game (e.g. the A’s are less likely to win because Gray is starting over Colon), not afterwards.

      Heck, this piece could have been written about the Pirates picking Cole to start over Burnett. Exact same scenario (Gray and Cole pitched better in game 2 than Colon or Burnett pitched in game 1, but each pair of pitchers were similarly effective during the year with the vets having much larger sample sizes at the MLB level) and exact same result.

      Who knows, maybe at the HBT staff meetings, Pouliot just gets stuck writing the negative perspective and other guys get to write the positive pieces.

      • historiophiliac - Oct 11, 2013 at 9:16 AM

        Do you think the thumb harpy turned A’s fan or is just a spazzing hater generally?

      • paperlions - Oct 11, 2013 at 10:31 AM

        No idea. One time I noticed that the only thing the thumb harpy wasn’t thumbing down are pro-boston comments….but a few days later, it was thumbing those down….so…it is probably just random dickishness.

        Congrats on the Tigers’ win. Good luck versus the Redsox, living in eastern CT, I really don’t need another RS trip to the WS.

      • historiophiliac - Oct 11, 2013 at 10:40 AM

        I hope we’ll do our best. Hoping for a rematch against you.

      • paperlions - Oct 11, 2013 at 10:48 AM

        So….you are saying you don’t want to face the Dodgers. ;-)

      • historiophiliac - Oct 11, 2013 at 10:51 AM

        Psht! Whatevs. I wouldn’t be torn about it at least, since Kemp is out. I’ll be a little torn if it’s y’all. But, still would love some revenge…apologies to your dogs.

      • paperlions - Oct 11, 2013 at 10:55 AM

        Eh, the dogs don’t really mind…their lives are cushy and full of positive stuff all the time, they won’t notice much difference.

        You know, Jordy Mercer, the Pirates SS, is also an native Oklahoman.

        Mercy! might work for you if he gets the starting job next year.

      • historiophiliac - Oct 11, 2013 at 11:21 AM

        Anderson for the A’s is from Stillwater, I believe. And, of course, the O’s will get Bundy! back. The sport is just lousy with usun’s. :)

      • paperlions - Oct 11, 2013 at 11:23 AM

        usun’s? Please tell me that is not common vernacular

      • historiophiliac - Oct 11, 2013 at 11:25 AM

        You betcha!

      • paperlions - Oct 12, 2013 at 1:29 AM

        Tonight. Beltran is became Ajax and Molly’s favorite baseball player…..treats for hits and for throwing guys out at the plate.

      • historiophiliac - Oct 12, 2013 at 11:30 AM

        You’re gonna make them fat! Better take an extra walk. ha ha

        Well, it has begun. Sports Center’s preview of our game described Lackey as “cancer survivor” — and the stuff about our guys was about how great they are at pitching. So, I guess we’re stacked with aces and he’s noble. Sympathy narrative is with the BloSox? Wow. I guess this year we don’t get “ruin porn” about Detroit. We’ve arrived as a team then, I presume.

      • paperlions - Oct 13, 2013 at 12:43 PM

        3/8 of the way there.

        I admit, it is hard to root for the Tigers….the thought of facing Sanchez, Scherzer and Verlander is daunting…..of course, it is impossible to root for the RS. I guess I am hoping for a 7 game series with a lot of extra inning games….just in case the Cardinals make it to the WS.

      • historiophiliac - Oct 13, 2013 at 12:52 PM

        As I said, I would like a rematch with y’all in the Series — and it won’t be the same Tigers this go round.

        Honestly, I thought we’d lose last night. I was hoping for a win under Max tonight and of course, under V in Detroit. Fister is iffy but then we’d get Sanchez at home, which I thought would be a better chance for winning. Then we’d only need 1 more from Max or V. We shall see. The Sox are certainly capable of turning it on better than last night. The thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter how much they win by, if they do. A win counts as a win (offensive juggernaut or not).

    • clydeserra - Oct 11, 2013 at 3:48 PM

      I won’t call it bush or bad writing to talk about. I like the contrast between melvin and Madden.

      But there is no way Jesse Chavez is a viable option here. You would have to really follow the A’s to know that of course. Maybe blevins as a loogy for Avila, but I think he did everything OK in that inning. except of course letting a guy go out with a broken hand, but that is another story

  4. dw3dw - Oct 11, 2013 at 12:14 AM

    Congrats to the Tigers. Difficult ending for A’s fans. It is hard to believe that the two teams that have won the most games in baseball over the past two seasons, the A’s and the Braves, are both out of the playoffs early, again. I like playoff baseball but don’t think it means much anymore–at least not the past five or six years. Maybe it’s time to have a all eight playoff teams in a round-robin tournament.

  5. dhalb34 - Oct 11, 2013 at 12:21 AM

    I would say the worst decision Melvin made was not putting Otero in in the seventh of game four up 4-3. It should have been Otero, Doolittle, Balfour, not Doolittle, Cook, Balfour. Doolittle is a great setup man, and Otero was dealing all Sept and this series. I’m a huge A’s fan, and I told my wife that it couldn’t get to game five for this very reason. Verlander has had our number, and you can’t put it back into his hands. Game four should have been won, but we mismanaged the bullpen and it cost us.

  6. bender4700 - Oct 11, 2013 at 12:22 AM

    I got to give it to the A’s, right to the very end I was nervous. Once Torii had that ball, I could breathe again.

  7. bendover09 - Oct 11, 2013 at 12:31 AM

    Stupid move ! You need to think about the win tonight not the future playoff games to get colon in.

    • clydeserra - Oct 11, 2013 at 3:50 PM

      colon’s warm up routine prevent him from relieving.

  8. brewcrewfan54 - Oct 11, 2013 at 1:35 AM

    Colon is a good pitcher but there’s no reason to believe he woulda done any better than Gray did tonight. I didn’t know who Sonny Gray was until the playoffs but I think the A’s have a good one with him.

    • eightyraw - Oct 11, 2013 at 12:04 PM

      There is every reason to believe he would have done better. Because his true talent at preventing runs is assumed to be higher. Colon is likely 15% better than the average SP at preventing runs. What are the chances that Sonny Gray is better at preventing runs? Ten percent? Twenty percent?

  9. thisdamnbox - Oct 11, 2013 at 1:56 AM

    Colon’s history against the Tigers was a strong indicator as to why Melvin went with the kid.

    • eightyraw - Oct 11, 2013 at 11:58 AM

      That’s such a stupidly small sample size

  10. shipdog7 - Oct 11, 2013 at 6:24 AM

    Jim Leyland was being criticized for not using Max Scherzer in the previous game instead of Fister. Fister did more than a decent job. And we know how that turned out with Max relieving. Leyland objected to making the change saying basically….”this (rotation) is what got us here. Why mess with it”? If Max had lost that game? What would the reaction had been to using him to finish up the game? What was he thinking? He is not a reliever. When Gray was announced as starter I cringed like everybody Tiger fan. Check his birth certificate. He can’t even grow a mustache he is so young. But he looked like a big leaguer. I did notice at one point where he was putting the ball in his glove and his hand appeared to be shaking. And not from rotating it to feel the seams.

  11. danaking - Oct 11, 2013 at 6:55 AM

    Another example of a sportswriter knowing the perfect balance of how much a manager should intervene in games, when no manager does, at least not to said sportswriter’s satisfaction.

  12. firstand98 - Oct 11, 2013 at 9:00 AM

    gray was fine. i loved the gamble going with him over colon. if there’s any criticism, it should be that gray is a two-pitch starter, and facing a veteran lineup a second time, the chances are you’re going to get knocked around a little bit unless you have your very best stuff working. and it wasn’t a case of nerves, so whoever said his hand was shaking is just projecting what they want to see. if it was nerves, gray doesn’t come out of that 4th inning and shut them down in the 5th. the kid was gassed. he was pumping 95-96 in the first trying to throw the ball through the catcher. i think it caught up to him in the 6th. and give the tigers credit, i thought they had a much better approach at the plate last night. they made gray work hard early. if he can develop a changeup or splitter, that kid can be really good. but you’re just not going to beat a lineup like detroit’s very often with two pitches.

    • eightyraw - Oct 11, 2013 at 12:01 PM

      No. If there is any criticism it’s that the A’s went with a pitcher who has thrown 72 MLB innings over a pitcher that finished second in the AL in ERA. It’s pretty obvious where the criticism is coming from.

  13. wheels579 - Oct 11, 2013 at 11:47 AM

    I can’t believe Matthew found it “simply astonishing” that the A’s didn’t bunt. That really takes the cake.

    • clydeserra - Oct 11, 2013 at 3:52 PM

      in a vacuum, yes they should have tested cabrera more, but they just don’t have the people with the skills. Maybe VOgt or sogard

  14. historiophiliac - Oct 11, 2013 at 12:25 PM

    Wow, Pouliot, you get a lot of personal hate.

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