San Francisco Chronicle
‘Bad pitch selection’: Montas serves up shot in 1st to Ohtani
Power met power in the first inning Sunday at the Coliseum. Frankie Montas emerged firing 98 mph fastballs. Shohei Ohtani stepped in to face him.
The matchup promised fireworks. Ohtani, the Angels’ two-way star, hits blasts that fill highlight reels. Montas, the Oakland Athletics’ ace, wields their rotation’s filthiest repertoire.
Mike Trout preceded Ohtani, spoiling a two-strike slider for a flare single. Montas fell behind 2-1 to Ohtani and tried a fastball at 96 mph at the top of the strike zone. Ohtani hit a towering drive to right-center. It left his bat at 108 mph and a 32-degree launch angle, talk of a deader ball and humidity in its inevitable wake.
The two-run shot landed 425 feet away in the seats, one swing marring a stellar outing by Montas in a 4-1 A’s loss.
“With Trout, I feel like I threw the right pitch there — he’s just so fricking good and he has really good bat control,” Montas said. “And with Ohtani it was just bad pitch selection; left that sinker up and he’s one of the best.”
Montas did not allow another run and struck out 12, one shy of his career high, across six innings. The Angels began Sunday leading the majors in strikeouts; Montas exploited the tendency. He induced 22 swingand-misses along with 12 called strikes. The Angels put just 11 balls into play on 57 swings.
Montas’ splitter got seven misses on 15 swings. It’s typically his best putaway pitch, but Sunday he finished seven strikeouts on fastballs, four on splitters and one on a slider.
“Usually I feel like guys are thinking about my splitter, not to get to the splitter, and they also forget that my fastball — it’s not that bad,” Montas said.
Taylor Ward led off the third with a triple, the only hit Montas allowed after the first. Montas struck out Trout swinging on a 97 mph fastball and the A’s walked Ohtani intentionally. Anthony Rendon worked Montas for an eight-pitch at-bat — Montas painted the low-outside quadrant with a fastball for a swing-through on the last. Jared Walsh’s groundout ended the inning.
“He got through six innings for us, that’s a great job,” manager Mark Kotsay said. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t get runners across today and ended up on the wrong side of it.”
Small ball: A striking glimpse of the Oakland offense arrived in the third inning. Jed Lowrie drew a leadoff walk and Ramón Laureano followed with a single.
Chad Pinder, the cleanup hitter, put down a bunt.
The A’s trailed 2-0 at the time. Pinder began Sunday with stark reverse splits — a .266 average against righties and .160 against lefties — yet had singled in his first at-bat against lefty Patrick Sandoval.
“In that situation I think Chad really just wanted to get the job done, get both runners into scoring position and felt more comfortable using that skill,” Kotsay said.
Pinder’s bunt advanced both runners, prevented a possible double play and set the stage for Lowrie to score from third on Sean Murphy’s groundout to shortstop. But Laureano was left at second when Christian Bethancourt grounded out. Kotsay said Pinder aimed to push his bunt past the pitcher and that “he’s got that option.”
“I’m OK with the bunt there,” Kotsay said. “Our offense, we left (10) guys out there today. So we’re trying to find different ways to push runs across, give guys a chance to have an easier opportunity to drive a guy in when he’s on third base.”
In the second, Elvis Andrus hit a leadoff single and Kevin Smith bunted him over. Smith’s push-bunt looked more like a base-hit attempt. Andrus was stranded on second.
In the seventh, Cristian Pache drew a leadoff walk. Tony Kemp, the leadoff hitter, sacrificed him to second. It did not help produce a run — Jimmy Herget replaced Sandoval and induced pop-outs from Lowrie and Laureano.
“We’re trying to get guys in scoring position any way we can,” Kemp said. “That might be a bunt or, whatever it may be, we’re going to do it.”
The three sacrifice bunts were the most by the A’s in a game since 2013. The strategy was neutralized as they went 0-for-11 with men in scoring position.
“At least they were successful in getting the guys over, but we have to continue to keep passing the bat to the next guy and getting those clutch hits,” Kemp said. “It feels like a bit of a broken record when your pitchers go out and dominate and we can’t muster up some runs for a win. It’s tough for an offense. Just have to continue to keep your confidence.”