Josh Donaldson came up big when it counted tonight, giving the A's a hard-fought 4-3 victory, their fifth this season against Houston. His RBI triple in the 8th inning, which scored Josh Reddick from first base, made the difference on another chilly night at the O.co Coliseum. It was an eventful game tonight — let's take a look at exactly what happened.
A's starting pitcher A.J. Griffin was certainly not his sharpest in the early going tonight. He started the game by walking Jose Altuve, but got Justin Maxwell to line out to third base, and later picked Altuve off before striking out Jason Castro to end the inning, having faced the minimum.
It was much worse in the 2nd inning, which Griffin began by walking Chris Carter and Carlos Peña back-to-back. A wild pitch with one out allowed the runners to move up. Griffin somehow escaped with no damage done, but his decision to live on the edge tonight stopped paying off in the next inning.
In the 3rd, Griffin gave up a leadoff double to Marwin Gonzalez, followed by consecutive singles from Jose Altuve and Justin Maxwell. Gonzalez scored on a sac fly soon after. Carter, the former Athletic, singled with one out, scoring Altuve and giving Houston a 2-0 lead.
A.J. settled down nicely in the end — he ended up going 6.0 innings, striking out eight, walking four, and giving up four hits. Not his best effort, but it got the job done.
The A's tried to come back in the 3rd, but came a base hit short of doing actual damage. Eric Sogard started the inning off with a triple to right-center field, and Coco Crisp followed him by battling Peacock for eight pitches and eventually drawing a walk. That brought John Jaso to the plate, but he got Coliseum'd, and was retired on a foul pop up about 20 feet to the left of the third base line, leaving the A's scoreless through three innings.
In the 4th, Chris Young came up with a two out single, and stole second base shortly thereafter on what Glen Kuiper called "maybe the biggest jump in the history of baseball". Seriously, it was funny. Young was literally halfway to second base by the time Peacock entered his windup.
Josh Reddick worked the count full against Peacock before drawing a walk. Young and Reddick then pulled off a double steal with Josh Donaldson batting, with Young gaining a huge jump once again — the throw ended up going to second base, where Reddick beat it by a half second.
After that? Peacock threw a fastball in the dirt — about two feet wide and two feet short of the plate — that Castro had no prayer whatsoever of catching. Young scored and Reddick moved to third on the wild pitch. Donaldson couldn't bring Reddick home, but the A's were on the board.
The A's suffered once again from iffy umpiring tonight. Peacock was getting pitches a solid eight inches off the outside corner called strikes. In the 5th inning, though, it worked out for Oakland. After taking what should have been ball four on a 3-0 count, Coco smashed a triple off the wall in the right field power alley, scoring Sogard, who'd been standing on second base after his ringing double.
Astros manager Bo Porter came out to talk to Peacock, but left him in the game despite having a reliever ready to go in the bullpen. Instead, with one out, Coco on third base, and a righty pitcher, the Astros called a pitch out, hoping to....well, honestly, I have no idea what they were hoping for. Catching Crisp charging home from third on a squeeze bunt with one out, in a tie game in the fifth, with John Jaso hitting? I mean...when do the A's do that? AN commenter "One won lost one" pointed out that the A's put on a squeeze play in a similar situation in spring training, also against Houston and with John Jaso hitting. But that was spring training, and now it's April 16. Who knows what the thought process was?
But it was a moot point, because Peacock couldn't get the ball over the plate, and walked Jaso. Porter came out again, this time making the switch and bringing in southpaw Dallas Keuchel to face Seth Smith.
Smith kept the 5th inning rally going by lining a hanging 0-2 breaking pitch to right field, scoring Coco and moving Jaso over to third. The A's had their first lead.
Jed Lowrie, apparently MLB's best fastball hitter this season (he's hitting .440 on fastballs) cued a grounder to third base, but Houston third baseman Matt Dominguez boldly decided to throw home, where Jason Castro got the tag on Jaso's upper body just in time for the out. Young grounded into a fielder's choice, ending the inning.
The 6th inning saw zero baserunners, a trend that continued through the 7th inning until, with Keuchel still pitching, Eric Sogard blooped a single to right field leading off the bottom half, putting him just a home run short of the cycle. He stole second base on another huge jump — apparently it's easy to run on Houston's whole staff, not just Peacock. But Smith grounded into a double play, ending the rally and leaving the A's with a narrow one-run lead going into the 8th inning.
Sean Doolittle came on in the 8th, and all was well...until it wasn't. He got Castro and Carter to fly out harmlessly to begin the inning. But then Peña came to bat, and hit a 1-1 fastball off a TV camera 25-ish feet to the right of the left field foul pole. That tied the game at 3.
In the bottom half on the inning, Reddick worked a two-out walk, and Donaldson put together a terrific at-bat against Rhiner Cruz, working the count full. On the 3-2 pitch, he lined a 96 MPH fastball down the right field line, landing it about six inches inside the right field foul line and just barely out of the reach of Houston right fielder Rick Ankiel. Reddick, running on the 3-2 pitch, scored easily, giving the A's a 4-3 lead headed into the 9th inning.
A's closer Grant Balfour came on to pitch the 9th — interestingly, it was only his second save opportunity of the season, despite the fact that the A's had 10 wins under their belt coming into tonight's game. He worked a 1-2-3 inning, and the A's took game two of the series by the final score of 4-3.
In a nice tribute to the city of Boston, reeling from yesterday's tragic events at the Boston Marathon, the A's (and to my knowledge, every MLB team that played at home today) played "Sweet Caroline", a Fenway Park tradition, in the middle of the eighth inning, and Reddick had the words "Boston" and "Strong" written on the his left and right wristbands.
Shane Peterson's debut ended up being disappointing, at least on the offensive side of the ball — he did make a hell of a play on Ankiel's line drive in the third inning, diving to his left to snag the ball on the fly. At the plate, though, he went 0-4 with 2 strikeouts. Oh, well. Most debuts are unimpressive.
Eric Sogard, however, had himself a night, finishing just a measly home run short of the cycle. He was never going maintain that absolutely absurd pace he set for himself in March, but he's more than holding his own offensively.
The A's looked great on the base paths tonight. Josh Reddick, Chris Young, and Eric Sogard all were credited with stolen bases (two for Young, actually) and Reddick had another base stolen during Donaldson's at-bat in the 8th, but Donaldson fouled the pitch off. Reddick was solidly halfway to second base by the time the pitch reached the plate, but no matter; that at-bat ended up working out pretty well for Oakland.
Cook and Doolittle both allowed one hit in the 7th and 8th innings, respectively, but Doolittle's was a home run. Overall, though, I'd say they both looked fine, and the A's bullpen is as solid as ever.
The A's caught a great break in terms of the timing of the Yoenis Cespedes injury — it's hard to imagine his presence having made a difference in Saturday and Sunday's blowout losses to Detroit, and a three-game series against Houston in Oakland, followed by an off day, seems like a perfect way to kill part of the 15-day waiting period for his stay on the DL. That's assuming he's able to come back as soon as he's eligible, and reports so far indicate that the A's are optimistic that Cespedes will be able to do exactly that.
It's good to see that the A's are doing what they're supposed to do so far: beating the Houston Astros in every chance they're given. So far, they're a perfect 5-for-5, and Oakland will try tomorrow afternoon to extend that streak to six. First pitch at the O.co is at 12:35 PST — Bartolo Colon goes for the A's, doing battle with Bud Norris for Houston, and Alex Hall will be there to take you through it, from before the first pitch until after the final out, plus everything in between.