NEW YORK (AP) — Other than opening with a reliever on the mound, nothing was any different about this October for the Oakland Athletics.
They didn’t last very long ... again.
Liam Hendriks gave up a two-run homer to Aaron Judge on his ninth pitch and the A’s never recovered, making another early playoff exit with a 7-2 loss to the New York Yankees in the American League wild-card game Wednesday night.
Oakland’s dangerous bats were mostly silenced by Luis Severino and a nasty New York bullpen, sending the A’s right back across the country and home for the winter — an abrupt ending to their surprisingly successful 97-win season.
“Unless you play the last game, it’s disappointing,” manager Bob Melvin said. “So I think when you reflect back and look where we started the year, kind of where we came from, it ends up being a good year. But it doesn’t feel good right now.”
Meanwhile, the Yankees advanced to a best-of-five Division Series against rival Boston.
It was the eighth consecutive defeat for the A’s in a winner-take-all postseason game since Reggie Jackson’s homer helped beat a New York Mets team that featured Tom Seaver and Willie Mays in Game 7 of the 1973 World Series.
Despite making nine playoff appearances this century, Oakland has reached the AL Championship Series only once, in 2006. The club dropped to 1-14 during that stretch with a chance to move on, including a 9-8 loss in 12 innings to Kansas City in the 2014 AL wild-card game.
“We’ve had a tough time with it,” Melvin said. “And it’s frustrating.”
Three of those setbacks have come courtesy of the Yankees, including five-game Division Series losses in 2000 and 2001. New York also swept the A’s 3-0 in the 1981 ALCS.
With his rotation heavily depleted by injuries, Melvin started Hendriks in a “bullpen game,” a strategic trend that’s quickly catching on around the majors after an innovative Tampa Bay organization employed it often this year with tangible success.
Hendriks, a no-name reliever with starting experience, returned from the minors in September and was effective in eight games as an “opener.” He tossed seven shutout innings over the last seven, pitching one inning each time before handing the ball to someone else as the Athletics relied on a strong and deep bullpen.
That was the idea Wednesday night, too, but intentionally throwing “Johnny Wholestaff,” as it used to be called, in a winner-take-all playoff game was certainly an unprecedented experiment.
“I think the first two batters obviously weren’t the way I drew it up. Didn’t quite get ahead, got into some bad counts and they made me pay,” Hendriks said. “After that, I kind of settled down a little bit. Got into a rhythm and was able to retire the next three, but unfortunately the first two came back to bite us.”
The previous three times a pitcher with no wins in the regular season — never mind one who was cut from the 40-man roster in June — had started a postseason game, they had missed most of the season either because of injury or to serve in a war.
Judge’s home run off Hendriks put the A’s in a quick hole at a raucous Yankee Stadium. They opened the fifth with their first hits of the night, consecutive singles that chased Severino. But then Dellin Betances retired Matt Chapman and Jed Lowrie before striking out slugger Khris Davis, the 2-3-4 hitters in the lineup, to thwart the scoring threat.
“It was a tough environment,” Davis said. “Their pitching just showed up tonight. They made good pitches when we had baserunners on and we’ve got to tip our cap.”
New York added four in the sixth against Fernando Rodney and Blake Treinen, perhaps the best closer in baseball this season.
Treinen allowed Luke Voit’s two-run triple and an eighth-inning homer to Giancarlo Stanton. The All-Star reliever was charged with three earned runs in two innings, the first time he yielded more than one in an outing all year.
“I just didn’t do a good job of executing pitches,” Treinen said. “I had a hard time getting my slider down.”
Davis, who led the majors with 48 homers, lined a two-run shot to right field in the eighth to trim the deficit to 6-2.
But by then, it was way too late.
“We couldn’t get that big knock,” catcher Jonathan Lucroy said.
After finishing last in the AL West the previous three years, low-budget Oakland went 97-65 for a 22-win improvement and its best record since a 103-59 mark in 2002.
Yet in the end, October was unkind once again.
“They got us on the run early and had two innings where they put up quick numbers,” Melvin said.
“We just didn’t do enough offensively tonight. You do have to give them credit. They pitched really well,” he added. “The first run is big. When you’re away and you get the crowd into it, that’s more that you have to overcome.”