The 2021 season didn’t start well for the Oakland Athletics. Yet by June the team was playing great baseball and were about to go 17 games over .500 after New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman couldn’t find the strike zone.
Chapman walked the first two hitters he faced, Tony Kemp and Jed Lowrie. At the time he only managed to throw one strike. So how does Sean Murphy handle the at-bat with the Athletics trailing by one?
He takes the first pitch for a ball putting even more pressure on Chapman to throw a strike and who looked uncomfortable on the mound. Still instead of being patient, Murphy swung at the next pitch, one that was bearing in on him. He made contact and hit the ball right at third basemen Gio Urshela who started the game ending triple play.
Overall Chapman faced three hitters and did not record a first pitch strike. He ended up throwing 11 pitches and only two were strikes.
From June 21 to July 11, Oakland won eight games and lost 11 which included being shutout twice. It didn’t get better as the Atheltics finished off the month of July by winning seven and losing eight for an overall record to start August at 59-47.
Oakland got more bad news in August with center fielder Ramon Laureano getting suspended for 80 games for PEDs. Also during this time the bullpen began to disintegrate. Closer Lou Trivino had a rough stretch. He ended blowing two saves and taking the losses, in his next appearance he took another loss. His ERA jumped from 1.72 to 2.55.
Yet his struggles continued as in his next two appearances he threw 1.1 innings he gave up seven runs on two hits with three walks and a strikeout. His ERA ballooned to 3.52. He has pitched better though and has only allowed a run in his last 10 appearances, he’s also won two games, picked up a save, and two holds. He has struck out 15 and walked two. His ERA is now at 3.07.
Trivino wasn’t the only one struggling. The overused Yusmeiro Petit gave up some big hits, Sergio Romo who started off the year horribly, steadied himself to become closer. Yet most of his opportunities were adventures and it didn’t last long. He began to look like he did to start the season. Jake Diekman was who he always been as a setup man. Even Andrew Chafin has struggled a bit since being acquired by the A’s.
Quite possibly the most difficult task for the A’s was finding someone to replace the injured Chris Bassitt who got struck in the face by a line drive. Paul Blackburn for his credit did better than expected. He made the most of his opportunity and the only two blemishes were short outings against the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers. Yet, his last start against the Houston Astros was his best since he threw 7.2 innings and gave up one run against the Seattle Mariners on July 6, 2017.
Yet the best example of why the A’s choked besides the Murphy at-bat. Is that Oakland went 13-12 against the Rangers and Baltimore Orioles, teams that lost over 100 games this season. What is worse though is their record against a team in their own division, the Mariners. The Athletics ent 4-15 against Mariners.
There was plenty that went wrong for the A’s after June 20th. Yet if Murphy comes up with the big at-bat facing Chapman, Oakland leaves New York with a series win and momentum. Instead that triple play became the downfall of the 2021 season.