It all began to fall apart in the eighth inning, which suddenly is the A's archnemesis.
Like watching a car accident happen in slow motion, an inevitable sense of doom came over the Oakland bullpen at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. Leading 4-0, Jake Diekman walked Mike Tauchman, the Yankees' No. 9 hitter, to start the inning.
Then it was Lou Trivino's turn. The right-hander allowed a single and another walk to load the bases with no outs. Gleyber Torres hit a deep fly ball to center, advancing all three runners and cutting the lead to 4-1.
It was now Liam Hendriks time. Oakland manager Bob Melvin called on his closer for his second five-out save in the last four days. This time, he couldn't get it done.
Hendriks allowed his two inherited runners to score on a single by Didi Gregorius. Then in the ninth inning, he surrendered back-to-back home runs to Brett Gardner and Mike Ford, as the Yankees walked off with a 5-4 victory.
"That's another tough spot to put him in," Melvin told reporters after the game. "We're trying to get two outs in the eighth and just couldn't do it. We were down some guys today and just trying to put our best foot forward. We've asked five outs several times out of him now and that's a tough deal, especially against these guys."
It was the A's 26th blown save of the season, third-most in the majors and just one away from the top spot of an honor no one wants to hold. It also was Oakland's ninth loss when leading after seven innings, seven more than all of last year.
"It was basically a tale of two games, the first seven innings and then the last two," Melvin said. "Unfortunately, we ended up on the wrong end of it."
In reality, an off-game for Hendriks was inevitable, given his grueling workload. The A's have failed to find a reliable eighth-inning option out of the bullpen, which has forced Hendriks into far too many multi-inning outings.
"(I didn't) have the best command and it came back to bite us," Hendriks told reporters. "It's always tough just sitting down and then going back out. I think it's trying to battle your emotions while getting into a situation and somewhat get out of it, and then go back out there with a one-run game. It's a little harder. But it's still no excuse. I needed to get my job done and unfortunately wasn't able to do it, and now we get a loss instead of walking away with a happy flight."
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Perhaps Blake Treinen can step into that role; the right-hander has been much sharper over the past two weeks. Or maybe young A.J. Puk is ready to become the team's primary setup man.
One way or another, the A's have to come up with a solution. Otherwise, losses like Sunday will cost them a playoff spot.