NEW YORK — There inevitably will be endless second-guessing of the A's decision to bullpen their way through the most important game of the season. That's just the nature of the business.
But bullpenning wasn't the reason for Oakland's 7-2 defeat Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.
While Liam Hendriks got off to a rocky start as the opener in the American League Wild Card Game, relievers Lou Trivino and Shawn Kelley combined for four scoreless innings to keep the Yankees' lead at just 2-0 through five innings. Allowing just two runs in five innings to that offense, in that ballpark, was the best-case scenario for the A's.
Unfortunately, Oakland's bats went quiet at the wrong time, producing just two hits through the first seven scoreless innings.
“The first two batters obviously weren't the way I drew it up,” Hendriks said of his outing. “After that, I kind of settled down a little bit and got into a rhythm, and I was able to retire the next three. Unfortunately, the first two came back to bite us.”
Added A's manager Bob Melvin: “I thought after we got through the first and settled in a little bit, our at-bats would get better and we'd get back in it. We just didn't do it.”
[RATTO: Simple answer for A's is ...]
Keep in mind, the A's didn't just start bullpenning for the fun of it. They suffered seemingly endless injuries to their starting rotation during the season, and by October, had no starters left that they could trust in this game.
“It's not the ideal situation,” catcher Jonathan Lucroy acknowledged. “We were kind of forced to do it because of our lack of starting pitching, and our bullpen is our strength right now. We had to utilize our strength. ... Especially in a one-game playoff, you've got to roll your best guys out there.”
“It's tough to sit there and watch,” starting pitcher Mike Fiers admitted. “Everyone wants to play and contribute. But I'm not mad that I didn't get in. ... We went with our best guys, and they beat us.”
The recipe for success in this game always was going to be playing from ahead. With the Yankees' deep and talented bullpen, a comeback after the fifth inning would be nearly impossible.
Ultimately, the A's couldn't produce any run support for their pitchers until it was too late.