Superheroes come in all forms. They can be big strong men or women with capes dazzled in red, white, and blue or multi-billionaires dressed up as sky-vermin. Or they can be magic raccoons. Point being, it can be hard to point out a superhero just by looking at someone, but tonight, the A’s were blessed by the appearance of Paul Blackburn, not in tights, but in a slightly loose forest green top with a yellow trim and slightly wrinkled gray pants and a smashing red beard.
After being summoned by a great big elephant signal in the sky, Paul Blackburn arrived to the scene of a near-dead Oakland offense and a team of opportunists looking to take advantage. Blackburn still isn’t striking hardly anyone out, as he only managed three over his seven superb innings, but it is clear that Blackburn’s superpower is one that causes even the mightiest of swings to induce the weakest of ground balls. The righty managed twelve ground balls resulting in outs on the night, compared to only one fly ball and the aforementioned three K’s, and had the Blue Jays off balance and over-swinging all game.
Blackburn used his power to escape seemingly inescapable situations, most notably in the first, when a leadoff double and a walk that followed were wasted when Toronto’s cleanup batter, Kendrys Morales, grounded hard into a double play to end the threat. He used that same power in the seventh inning after Morales had walked to start the inning, to induce a double play from Troy Tulowitzki. All told, the Blue Jays managed just two hits and five total baserunners over the seven innings that he pitched. Blackburn’s fastball was particularly well-located and effective on the evening, despite its lack of overpowering stuff.
Unfortunately, Blackburn’s kryptonite is a pitch count and his enemy is the A’s bullpen. And he has the Navi of sidekicks in the A’s offense.
The A’s offense was charged with figuring out Marco Estrada, who, over his last nine starts has had an ERA of 9.52 and has allowed nine home runs with a 2.14 WHIP, over only forty collective innings. And he pitched like a pitcher with an ERA over nine, but, like in the first two games of the series, the A’s looked lost at the plate. The first inning appeared promising right off the bat for the A’s as the team loaded the bases vis-à-vis a couple of long walks and an infield single from Yonder Alonso, but the rally fell short and no runs scored. The cynic would also note that the A’s failed to hit a ball beyond the infield in the frame despite Estrada throwing meat balls the size of grapefruit.
The failed rally proved costly as the offense was most entirely shut down for the first four innings of the game, save for an Alonso double that was also squandered. It was only with two outs in the fifth inning that Matt Joyce walked and Marcus Semien got ahead in the count 3-1 before clubbing a high-80’s fastball high and just over the high wall for a home run.
And that was it for the offense. The kind of display that makes one consider jabbing a pen in each eye just to force oneself from watching yet another minute of it.
Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips wrote (in the song ‘Waiting for a Superman’) “Tell everybody waiting for Superman that they should try to hold on best they can. He hasn’t dropped them, forgot them, or anything, it’s just too heavy for Superman to lift.” Paul Blackburn did everything he could, and really couldn’t have performed all that much better, but somebody else has to pick up the slack every once in a while. All the forces that relied on Blackburn failed to back him up in his time of need, after his pitch count crept up on one hundred pitches, and ultimately the team fell because of it.
Wayne Coyne, in the same song, wrote “Is it overwhelming to use a crane to crush a fly?” Well, the crane of the Blue Jays offense met with the fly that is Santiago Casilla in the bottom of the ninth. A walk and a home run and another home run ended the game.
The A’s got three hits. Casilla Mujica’d everything up. Paul Blackburn’s heroic performance was wasted. The A’s lose 3-2 and look to avoid the four game sweep tomorrow morning.
And, to play the A’s out on this most uplifting of evenings: