OAKLAND — Frankie Montas sure looked like he was about to put the finishing touches on an absolute gem when he took the mound for the eighth inning on Saturday afternoon. At that point, he had put together a one-hit shutout against a potent Rangers offense that offered little resistance.
Unable to finish the eighth after giving up a pair of one-out singles, Montas departed in a scoreless tie to a standing ovation from the Oakland faithful. But just a few pitches after Domingo Acevedo took over in relief, chaos ensued, Mark Kotsay was ejected for the first time in his managerial career, and the end result was a 2-0 loss to Texas at the Coliseum.
Sparking the confusion was a strong throw to the plate from Tony Kemp that appeared good enough to nab Eli White trying to score a second run on Brad Miller’s two-out single to left, which would have limited Oakland’s deficit to one run.
However, even though Texas was out of challenges, a meeting between Rangers manager Chris Woodward and third base umpire Doug Eddings shortly after the play led to the initiation of a crew chief review to determine whether A’s catcher Sean Murphy was blocking the plate during White’s slide into home.
Analysis of the play from the replay crew in New York determined that Murphy did indeed violate the slide rule by obstructing home plate. White was ruled safe at the plate, and the Rangers extended their lead to two runs. At the conclusion of the half-inning, Kotsay went out for a discussion with home plate umpire Brian Knight, exchanged some words, and was promptly tossed from the game.
“My frustration got the best of me,” said Kotsay of his ejection. “I understand the Rangers asking for that play to be reviewed. It’s a crew chief discretion, which I think there’s only been one time since replay has been in the game that a replay has been denied. Maybe I don’t fully understand the rule, but I didn’t feel Murph was completely blocking the plate. I thought he was set up for a throw from a left fielder, which is going to take him into the plate. Once he received the ball, he was ahead of the runner.”
In Kotsay’s mind, the second run scored signaled a significant momentum shift in a tightly-contested game where runs were hard to come by.
“It was a big moment in the game,” Kotsay explained. “Even though they had scored, adding on a second run and continuing the inning is big. They had every right to probably throw me out the first time I went out there because you’re not supposed to argue a replay. I think I just went out and just lost my frustration with the replay.”
From the Rangers’ side of things, White said that regardless of the ruling, he felt he was able to sneak his hand into the plate before getting tagged by Murphy.
“It was so bang-bang [that] it was kind of hard to tell if he was blocking the plate,” White said. “But they were right there and [Woodward] was on top of it and saw it.”
Given the state of Oakland’s offense right now, any extra runs allowed seem critical. Perhaps a product of Saturday being their 16th consecutive game without a day off to start the season — which ties the club’s longest consecutive stretch to start a season without a day off since 1987 and 1991 — the sluggish A’s bats have now scored one run or fewer in three of their last four games.
Collecting just three hits against Texas on Saturday, the A’s are now 35-for-188 through the first six games of this seven-game homestand.
“It’s the ebbs and flows of the season,” Kotsay said. “We didn’t get the timely hit, which we’ve been able to do in most of these 16 games. Ultimately, [if] you get three hits, you’re not going to be on the positive side of the game.”
The offensive deficiencies spoiled what was still quite the spectacular performance for Montas, who ended up allowing two runs on three hits and a walk as he notched eight strikeouts over 7 1/3 innings, both season-highs for the right-hander.
Entering the day, opposing batters were 0-for-13 against Montas’ splitter, which is quickly turning into one of the game’s most unhittable pitches. On Saturday, though, he said he didn’t have a great feel for that pitch and instead incorporated more of his slider, which he generated five of his 16 total whiffs with. Lowering his season ERA to 3.28, Montas continues to overpower hitters, with his 25 strikeouts through his first four starts now tied for second-most among American League starters.