The bullpen mounds were empty as J.T. Chargois returned to the diamond at Oakland Coliseum for Wednesday’s eighth inning. He had pitched the seventh inning earlier in the night and the eighth inning a night before.
His presence at this moment reflected the confidence Chargois has earned since rejoining the Dodgers in early July and the dearth of relief options available to manager Dave Roberts.
Stretched beyond his regular usage, Chargois built a fire. The flames billowed into a 3-2 loss to the Athletics thanks to slippery hands of catcher Yasmani Grandal. After Chargois gave up two singles, he induced a grounder off the bat of Oakland slugger Khris Davis. Manny Machado scooped the baseball and pegged toward home to protect a deadlock. Grandal swept a tag across the legs of Oakland shortstop Marcus Semien.
The baseball lay in the dirt in front of Grandal. He never caught it.
“It’s going to be one of those plays where it’s a bang-bang play,” Grandal said. “If you happen to have the ball in your hand, he’s out. And if not, he’s safe.”
Semien was safe, and the Dodgers (63-52) missed a chance for a two-game sweep. Roberts went to the mound to remove Chargois and insert another right-handed reliever, Dylan Floro. Floro had begun warming up as Chargois fell into trouble but did not arrive until Oakland had the lead.
Pitching at Oakland Coliseum for only the third time in his career, Clayton Kershaw allowed two runs in six innings. He struck out only one and induced only four whiffs in 97 pitches. Oakland stung him with a four-hit flurry in the fourth, which built a lead for their starter, Mike Fiers, who struck out eight before sputtering midway through the sixth.
“Fortunately tonight, I at least made it through six,” Kershaw said. “And gave us a chance there at the end.”
The Dodgers had not seen Fiers in three years. Their last encounter was a dismal one for the Dodgers and a historic evening for Fiers. He pitched the 11th no-hitter in Astros history, silencing the Dodgers on Aug. 21, 2015, at Minute Maid Park.
Only three members of the Dodgers starting lineup from that evening were in the lineup on Wednesday: Joc Pederson, Justin Turner and Grandal. Fiers had similar results with the new Dodgers. He retired the first 12 batters he faced. He struck out six in the first three innings.
Kershaw was less overpowering than Fiers. He was still effective. He pitched around a pair of singles through three scoreless innings. He did not register a strikeout but induced enough soft contact on the ground and in the air.
The Dodgers could scarcely connect with the pitches thrown by Fiers. In the fourth, Turner showed frustration with the strike zone of umpire Mike Muchlinski. With the count at 3-1, Turner took a fastball at the knees. The pitch appeared to catch the lower, outside corner of the zone, and Muchlinski called it a strike.
When the umpire had a similar ruling on the full-count fastball, a 91-mph heater aimed further outside than the previous pitch, Turner registered his displeasure. Muchlinski removed his mask and his cap to argue with Turner. Roberts intervened to joust with the umpire as Kershaw warmed up for the bottom of the inning.
Kershaw blinked before Fiers permitted a Dodger to reach base. Oakland strung together four singles in the fourth to bring home two runs. Davis whacked a slider through the left side of the infield and outfielder Mark Canha hit a 91-mph fastball into center field. With two outs, outfielder Stephen Piscotty redirected another 91-mph fastball for an RBI single.
“I didn’t have much of anything tonight,” Kershaw said. “It was a little bit of smoke and mirrors.”
Up next was Ramon Laureano, a 23-year-old rookie with only 13 career plate appearances. His 14th was memorable. Kershaw jammed him with a first-pitch fastball.
A lazy pop-up drifted into shallow right field, an area vacated by the Dodgers’ outfield shift. Brian Dozier sprinted from the diamond and Yasiel Puig scampered over from right-center, but the ball still fell for another RBI single.
A display of brute strength ended Fiers’ pursuit of perfection. Grandal tattooed a 90-mph fastball over the fence in right field to start the fifth inning.
The Dodgers produced two more singles in that frame, including Max Muncy’s first hit since Aug. 2, but could not even the score.
Fiers did not finish the sixth. Machado smashed a one-out double, which convinced Oakland manager Bob Melvin to try his bullpen.
Athletics reliever Lou Trivino walked Grandal but escaped with runners at the corners by getting Dozier to ground into the third out.
Trivino had less luck in the seventh. Cody Bellinger sprayed a leadoff, opposite-field single. Muncy hit a sharp grounder to the right side, which moved Bellinger to second base. With two outs, Chris Taylor lined into center for the game-tying single.
“I thought we were going to steal one tonight,” Roberts said.
It was not to be. Chargois was the first man out of the Dodgers bullpen. He retired the side in nine pitches in the seventh. With the top of Oakland’s lineup looming for the eighth, Roberts pondered his options.
Floro was available, but Roberts was hopeful he could use him in a multi-inning stint this weekend against the Colorado Rockies. Roberts opted for Chargois over Scott Alexander, Pedro Baez, John Axford, Caleb Ferguson, Zac Rosscup and Pat Venditte.
Semien led off with a single. Another followed from Jed Lowrie. Then Davis hit a grounder to Machado, who threw home to Grandal.