ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- One pitch away from a series sweep, the Oakland Athletics got a taste of how the other side lives in a 5-2, 11-inning loss to Tampa Bay on Thursday.
Reliever Dan Otero, pitching with two out and two on in the 11th, got two quick strikes against Desmond Jennings, then couldn't finish him off. Jennings' single tied the game, and moments later the Rays had the win when Sean Rodriguez unloaded a three-run home run off Luke Gregerson.
"Any time your team battles like that and gives you the lead and you can't shut it down, that's tough," Otero said in an abnormally quiet Athletics clubhouse.
Oakland has still won 11 of its last 13 games and at 30-17 has the best record in the American League. But that pales against the reality that this one slipped away.
"Whether you are one pitch away or not, you have to go out there and get three outs," Otero said. "Unfortunately, I left a couple of pitches up and they got some good swings on them and they scored some runs."
Otero's misstep was rare -- he'd never lost a major league game (6-0).
The only question about Rodriguez's homer was whether or not it would stay fair. It did, ending a game that lasted 3 hours, 45 minutes.
"A loss is a loss," Gregerson said. "I don't care if it takes two minutes or 10 hours. I was trying to go front-door slider on him. The ball came back over the middle maybe down. I thought it was a pretty decent pitch. I sure didn't expect him to hit it that well."
The game was lost in the 11th inning, but not just in the 11th inning. Down 1-0 entering the ninth, Oakland met up with old pal Gant Balfour, tied the game off him and were in position to win right there.
John Jaso singled, pinch runner Craig Gentry stole second, and Josh Donaldson walked. Brandon Moss struck out looking, but Yoenis Cespedes clubbed a double to left field that tied it and left runners at second and third. The bases were loaded when Jed Lowrie was gifted with an intentional walk.
But Balfour, who 12 months ago was closing for the A's, induced routine fly balls from Josh Reddick and Alberto Callaspo as the moment slipped away.
"There's no way that game should go extra innings with the ninth inning we had," Reddick said. "I've got to do a better job of getting the run in and toning things down, but sometimes things don't work out that way."
So the last two weeks have seen the A's win six straight, lose one, win five straight and lose one again. They head to Toronto for a three-game weekend set with the Blue Jays owning the best record in the league.
"We're one pitch away and the guy fought a ball off up the middle," manager Bob Melvin said of Jennings' single. "That's why you play to the last out.
"It's always nice to win a series, but when you've won two and you are ahead going into being able to close it out, it's a little disappointing. But you pick up and move on to tomorrow."
The A's wound up getting just 15 hits and eight runs in the three games of the series. That was unexpected given the A's 30-run, 33-hit performance in their three-game stop in Cleveland last weekend, but on Thursday the A's were happy to get anything they could against Rays starter Alex Cobb.
Cobb and A's starter Sonny Gray both dominated. The game was scoreless for six innings, then Gray made a mistake to Yunel Escobar in the seventh. The result was an RBI single that it would take another few innings for Oakland to match.
"Cobb's always been great, especially against us," Reddick said. "Once we got him out of the game I thought we had a good chance to take advantage of it. It shows Sonny's character and what he can do."
-- Gray came into the game with the best ERA in the league at 2.10 and lowered it to 1.99. He's opened the season with 10 consecutive quality starts including allowing just one run and five hits in eight innings Thursday.
-- Cespedes accounted for both the A's runs with his RBI double in the ninth and a go-ahead sacrifice fly in the 11th after Donaldson led off with a double and took third on a grounder.
-- Reddick kept the A's in the game in the third inning with a leaping catch at the wall of Wil Myers' blast with the bases loaded.
-- Both center fielder Coco Crisp and shortstop Lowrie were back in the starting lineup. Crisp had missed one start and Lowrie two because of neck pain.
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