The small-budget Oakland Athletics came close again against the visiting Detroit Tigers, but fell short of reaching the American League (AL) Championship Series with a 3-0 loss in a deciding game five on Thursday.
It was deja vu all over again as Tigers ace Justin Verlander shut them down in the deciding game just as he had last year.
“When you don’t get a runner past first base, it’s tough,” Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt said.
Verlander carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning before Yoenis Cespedes singled sharply up the middle. He gave up two hits in all with one walk and 10 strikeouts over eight innings.
The defeat stung the A’s, who had claimed the AL West title for a second successive season despite having Major League Baseball’s 27th smallest payroll at US$71 million after having the lowest in the majors last year at US$59.5 million.
“It’s just disappointing right now,” A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson said. “We thought we had the team to win, to win the whole thing and we just fell a little short.”
After Verlander gave way to closer Joaquin Benoit in the ninth, Oakland put two men on base with a double by Jed Lowrie and a hit batsman. Seth Smith, a home run away from knotting the game, flew out to right field to end it.
“We’re one pitch away from tying that ball game,” Australian closer Grant Balfour said. “I’m kind of lost for words.”
The A’s put their hopes on 23-year-old rookie starting pitcher Sonny Gray, who had been dazzling in his game two duel with Verlander. Gray threw seven shutout innings in that contest.
Gray did him one better, going eight scoreless innings in a game won 1-0 by Oakland in the bottom of the ninth.
The young right-hander was not quite as sharp on Thursday and paid for one glaring mistake — an inside fastball to Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera who knocked it over the fence in left to give Detroit a 2-0 lead in the fourth.
“He’s such a great kid and a great pitcher,” Vogt said. “He gave us a chance to win tonight, but we did not get it done.”
Oakland manager Bob Melvin agreed.
“At the end of the day, he basically just gives up a home run to Cabrera,” the skipper said. “He pitched fine tonight. When you don’t score a run and only get a few hits, you have to be perfect.”
“Have to try to come back next year, and you hope you get these guys again and put it to them,” A’s outfielder Josh Reddick said.