It's possible that one game will be all that separates the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland A's when their intense AL West race crosses the finish line on Sept. 28. If that proves to be the case, and the A's end up one stride ahead, then we can honestly say they were separated by just one pitch.
One wild pitch.
To be perfectly honest, it was one very, almost extraordinarily, wild pitch, and it came in the eighth inning of Oakland's 2-1 win on Saturday night.
With the game all tied at one, Oakland scraped together a rally that wasn't exactly pretty, but looks efficient in the boxscore. After Coco Crisp greeted reliever Joe Smith with a single, Craig Gentry attempted and failed to bunt him over to second on the first two strikes, but still ended up getting the job done on a one-hop comebacker to Smith. Josh Donaldson followed with a ground ball to second base, which advanced Crisp to third, and then Smith plunked Derek Norris to put runners at the corners.
That set the stage for pinch-hitter Brandon Moss, but all he had to do was stand there and watch as Smith's fastball sailed high and away, well beyond catcher Chris Iannetta's reach, allowing Crisp to race home with the go-ahead run.
If you're Oakland, it's the ultimate manufactured run.
If you're Los Angeles, it's one of the most painful ways to lose a game, especially when you're battling your main foe in a tight division race.
It's just a shame it happened with Smith on the hill, because he's been one of Mike Scioscia's most reliable players, posting a 2.05 ERA in his first 62 relief appearances. In fact, when recently traded reliever Ernesto Frieri struggled and could no longer hold down their closers role, it was Smith who filled in and bridged the gap unitl they acquired an All-Star level replacement in Huston Street.
He's a valuable commodity, and Scioscia made sure that was recognized in wake of Saturday's game.
“Joe's been one of the mainstays down there and one of the biggest reasons why we've been able to pick up ground and get to the top of our standings,” Scioscia said.
It's just, for some strange reason, the A's have had his number all season. After Saturday's wild pitch, Smith has allowed eight earned runs against Oakland, and only six against everyone else.
It's not something that's easily explained. It's just one of those oddities that occurs during a 162-game season, and in this case it could possibly decide the tightest divisional race in baseball.
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