An error led to the winning run in the sixth inning. A blown bunt in the seventh inning ran the A's out of their best threat. It all added up to a 2-1 loss before 44,007 at Angel Stadium on Saturday night, leaving the A's (2-4) on the losing end of yet another one-run game with their fiercest rivals in the American League West.
The Angels scored the winning run in the sixth inning when Casey Kotchman rolled a slow ground ball up the middle. Shortstop Marco Scutaro ranged behind the bag to field the ball, but his hurried throw was wild, allowing Garret Anderson, who had led off the inning with a double, to score from second base.
That gave the Angels a 2-1 lead which Lackey and the bullpen tandem of Hector Carrasco in the eighth and Scot Shields in the ninth inning protected, but not before the A's ran themselves out of their best scoring threat of the game.
Eric Chavez drove a double to begin the inning, and Lackey, missing up and in, drilled Nick Swisher on the back with a fastball. With Mark Ellis, one of Oakland's best bunters at the plate and runs at a premium, manager Bob Geren took a chance and ordered Ellis to attempt a bunt.
Lackey came at Ellis with a high fastball. Ellis couldn't get the bunt down, and with the runners in motion, catcher Mike Napoli had his choice of prey. He feigned a throw to second then threw to third, trapping Chavez in what became a 2-5-6-2 rundown that ended with Napoli covering third to retire Chavez for the first out of the inning.
The play became more painful when, with two outs, Travis Buck singled to right to put runners at the corners. But with his 106th and final pitch of the night, Lackey struck out Marco Scutaro to end the inning.
"Sometimes I like to bunt that [high] pitch and usually I get down the bunt," Ellis said. "Sometimes I can bunt it. Tonight I didn't. It's tough for the runner [Chavez] at second to get back."
Geren said the A's couldn't afford not to try to create offense. You couldn't blame him. Lackey is the A's killer. He is now 10-2 with a 2.80 ERA in 19 career starts against them.
"You take a chance right there," Geren said. "If [the bunt] is not hit right at somebody, [Chavez] is going to make it. [Ellis] just missed the bunt. He's an excellent bunter. He's one of the best we have. I've seen him get that bunt down many times."
The frightening thought for the Athletics is that Lackey (2-0) might not have been in top form despite seven hits in seven innings, allowing one earned run, striking out six and walking none. His ERA is 0.75 after two starts. Haren's ERA is 0.69.
"[Lackey's] been pretty dominating against us, and you know you have to find a way to manufacture some runs," Ellis said. "It just didn't work out tonight."
Haren (0-2) battled despite walking three and allowing six hits in seven innings, including three doubles, two of which were rockets off the bat of Orlando Cabrera. Haren struck out two and needed 102 pitches to get through seven innings.
"I was fighting myself as much as I was fighting them," he said. "The two doubles Cabrera hit, I'd have hit those for doubles. Those were fastballs right over the middle of the plate, letter high, in hitter's counts. The hits they got, for the most part, were mistakes. I was just fighting myself and my command. I'm proud of the way I went through the lineup because it's not an easy lineup to get through. To get through seven innings in a hostile environment, I feel like I had some success."
Carrasco pitched a perfect eighth and Shields earned his first save, inducing Chavez to hit into a 4-6-3 double play and striking out Swisher to end the game.
The clubs have 10 one-run decisions between them in the last 22 games.
If Lackey is the A's killer, Haren might be forgiven if, when he bent down to tie his shoes, he also looked for a break, a run, or a victory.