It wasn't supposed to happen this way. The Oakland A's made several big moves during the regular season to ensure that they would have the horses on the mound to win the tight games in the post-season. In the end, it was the same old story for the A's, who -- for the third straight post-season -- couldn't hold a late lead in a game they needed to win to advance. This game might have been the most painful of the three, as the A's had a four run lead in the eighth inning with their ace on the mound and they still couldn't get it done.
Much like the A's 2014 regular season, Oakland's chances looked promising early. The A's staked out a 2-0 lead in the first when Brandon Moss cranked a two-run homer off of Kansas City starter James Shields with two-outs. However, in an omen of what was to come later, the A's weren't able to extend that momentum into the bottom half of the first. The A's middle infield struggled on two groundballs to start the inning, resulting in an infield hit and a force out that could have been a double-play. Those miscues would comeback to bite starter Jon Lester and the A's, as Lester allowed a two-out, RBI single to Billy Butler.
The inning would end with the A's leading 2-1, but the final play of the first would loom large the rest of the game. Butler took off on a delayed steal and Lester picked him off. Hosmer, who was at third, took off for home and the A's threw him out at the plate. Catcher Geovany Soto injured his thumb on the play, however, and he had to leave the game in the third. Soto was in the game because of his throwing ability. His absence would be glaring in the later stages of the game.
The game remained 2-1 until the third inning. In the top of the third, the A's had two on for Moss, but he lined into an inning-ending double-play after Sam Fuld was caught too far off of second base. In the bottom of the frame, Mike Moustakas singled off Lester to start the inning and he was bunted over to second by Alcides Escobar. After a Nori Aoki ground-out, Lester looked poised to get out of the inning unscathed. However, he allowed a two-out double to Lorenzo Cain and a two-out single to Hosmer. The A's suddenly found themselves in a 3-2 hole, facing the daunting prospect of having to get to Shields, who was gaining momentum, and a talented Royals' bullpen.
The A's offense was quiet until the sixth, when they suddenly came alive. Fuld singled and Josh Donaldson walked to start the inning. Royals manager elected to take out Shields, replacing him with young right-hander Yordano Ventura. Ventura had an outstanding season as a starter in 2014, but he threw more than 80 pitches on Sunday and looked out of sorts immediately when he came in. Ventura threw two balls to Moss and then grooved a fastball down the middle. Moss didn't waste the opportunity, crushing a 415-foot homerun to straightaway center. The A's suddenly had a 5-3 lead, and they didn't stop there. Josh Reddick singled and then moved to second on a wild pitch. After advancing to third on a fly-out to right, Reddick scored on a two-out single by Derek Norris, who was in the game for Soto. Eric Sogard followed with an infield single and Coco Crisp gave the A's what looked to be an insurmountable 7-3 lead with another RBI single.
Lester looked in control for awhile, cruising into the eighth inning with that four-run lead intact. However, Escobar led-off the inning with a groundball under the glove of shortstop Jed Lowrie. The play was initially ruled an error but was later changed to a hit. Still, it was a play that Lester needed made behind him. Aoki grounded out, but not before Escobar stole second. He would then score on a one-out single by Cain. Cain then stole second base and Lester walked Hosmer. He left the game with the A's clinging to a 7-4 lead and runners on first and second.
Luke Gregerson relieved Lester and quickly allowed a run-scoring single off the bat of Billy Butler. The game then moved to 7-6 when Gregerson uncorked a wild pitch. Gregerson would walk Alex Gordon, but would recover by striking out Salvador Perez and Omar Infante to strand the tying run at third base.
In the top of the ninth, the A's had a chance to give closer Sean Doolittle a little breathing room. Crisp struck-out swinging against Royals' closer Greg Holland, but Fuld walked. After a Donaldson line-out, Moss came to the plate. Fuld advanced to second on a wild pitch and Moss then walked. Reddick followed with a walk to load the bases, but Lowrie hit a soft liner to right on the first pitch of his at-bat that was caught, ending the inning.
The A's would regret not adding another run. A's killer Josh Willingham pinch-hit to start the ninth and he blooped a two-strike hit to right of Doolittle. Pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson advanced to second on a bunt by Escobar and then stole third while Aoki was at the plate. Aoki, who rarely strikes out, came through with a sac fly to the corner in right, tying the game.
Doolittle would stay in the game in the 10th inning and he kept the Royals off the board despite allowing a lead-off single. The A's offense was quiet in the 10th and the 11th before mounting a rally in the 12th. Rookie Brandon Finnegan, who was selected in the first round by Kansas City this season, was brilliant in his first two innings of work in relief of Holland. In the 12th, he walked Reddick to lead-off the inning and then was taken out of the game after Lowrie bunted Reddick to second. A wild pitch moved Reddick to third with one-out and pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo came up big, lining a two-strike pitch that was up in his eyes to left for an RBI single.
Dan Otero pitched a scoreless 11th and he remained in the game in the 12th to try to close out the A's win. He retired Cain to start the inning but then allowed a drive by Hosmer to the wall in left center. In the 11th inning, Crisp left the game with a hamstring injury, and the A's brought in Jonny Gomes to play left, moving Fuld to center. Gomes and Fuld converged on Hosmer's drive and crashed into each other attempting to make the catch. It isn't clear whether Fuld would have caught the ball had Gomes not been there, but Fuld would have had a better chance. Hosmer wound-up at third on a triple.
Christian Colon, who came in the game late, hit a high, soft chopper to third that Donaldson couldn't bare-hand. The hit scored Hosmer and the game was, once again, tied. Fernando Abad came on in relief of Otero and retired Gordon for the second out of the inning. However, the A's couldn't close the door. Jason Hammel relieved Abad. He nearly picked off Colon at first and later in the at-bat to Perez, the A's called a pitch-out when Colon was running. Norris muffed the pitch, however, and was unable to make a throw. Perez then grounded a ball past a diving Donaldson, driving in Colon and ending the A's season.
The A's will have a lot to think about in regards to this game this off-season. After struggling offensively for the entire second half of the year, the A's scored eight times (seven times during regulation) and still couldn't seal a win with one of the best starters in post-season history on the mound. The A's inability to control the Royals' running game ultimately did the A's in. Kansas City stole seven bases, and all of them came at critical moments. The A's defense in other areas cost them, as well. The middle infield failed to make several critical plays on grounders up the middle and Hosmer's triple was a play the A's outfield had to make.
The A's will undoubtedly return a very different roster in 2015, with several free-agents-to-be on the roster. Those who remain will have to deal with the carryover effect of a nightmare final two months of the 2014 season and a devastating post-season loss that no one around the A's organization is likely to forget anytime soon.