Watching the Oakland Athletics play the Houston Astros is like watching your favorite movie over and over. I could see Super Troopers or Dazed & Confused every day for a week and not get bored. Heck, I watched Moneyball three times during spring training, just to get myself hyped up for the season. So it is with Astros games -- the A's score a bunch of runs early, the Astros don't do much at the plate and mostly fumble around on defense, and the game is more or less wrapped up by the fifth inning.
Tonight, the A's mixed up the script a bit. They still took the early lead, but this time they let Houston back in the game in the fifth, presumably so that the home crowd wouldn't get bored. Things stayed locked up until the ninth, and then the Astros did their defensive fumbling and allowed Oakland to plate seven runs in the frame to run away with a 12-5 victory and their second straight rout. You could go two ways with this analogy: Your favorite sitcom did a really fresh, creative new episode while still maintaining the usual happy ending, or you were watching your favorite movie, Netflix crashed for a couple hours, and then it picked back up and you watched the end of the flick, same as it always was. Either way, Houston was so bad tonight that it transcended sports; they managed to let their opponent score a touchdown in a baseball game.
One way to sum up Oakland's offense in this game is that the team put a runner in scoring position in every inning but the third. Another is that they went 5-for-21 with runners in scoring position, which isn't remarkable for the percentage but rather for the sheer quantity of opportunities. Only four of their 14 hits were for extra bases, but they picked up nine walks and a pair of hit-by-pitches along the way. When you put it like that, 12 runs sounds downright pedestrian.
The A's got the scoring started in the second inning. Josh Reddick hit a 400-foot triple to center field to drive in the first run, and Daric Barton followed by sneaking a grounder under the glove of shortstop Jonathan Villar for a run-scoring error. A single and a walk loaded the bases, and Jed Lowrie lined a hit to right to plate two more. They added one more in the fourth when Brad Peacock's pickoff throw to second base went into center field to allow Eric Sogard to advance to third; John Jaso drove him in with a sac fly that almost drifted into the Crawford Boxes for a cheap homer.
However, Jesse Chavez was not sharp tonight, for the first time this season. He made it through the first two frames unscathed, but Villar and Jose Altuve led off the third with back-to-back doubles to get Houston on the board. In the fourth, with the A's up 5-1, the hit parade started. Alex Presly, Chris Carter and Matt Dominguez hit consecutive singles to start things off, making the score 5-2. Villar, who has the third-highest slugging percentage on the team, laid down a sacrifice bunt, which is just fine with me. I don't understand why you would hand a struggling pitcher an out when the first three guys reached base, especially this early in the game, but Astros gonna Astro. I guess Bo Porter went to the Ron Washington School of Managing after graduating from the Brian McCann School of Complaining.
The rest of the rally can be attributed to Oakland's defense, which is becoming an all-too-common statement. Altuve hit a smash to Donaldson, but the third baseman came up with it cleanly and fired across the diamond. Unfortunately, he sailed the throw several feet over Barton's head and into the seats; both runners scored and Altuve was awarded second base. Dexter Fowler followed with a hit, and Jason Castro capped the rally by driving in Altuve with a groundout. Game tied, 5-5.
Wait, what just happened? That's not how this movie goes. The A's are supposed to cruise to an easy victory while the Astros flail at breaking balls in the dirt. This was a Shyamalan-like twist. Note that Chavez was bad-but-not-terrible; he wasn't fooling anyone, but he issued only two walks and didn't give up a homer. The singles were solid, but they were only singles and he forced the opponent to beat him rather than giving in and handing out free baserunners. If this is what he looks like when he's totally off, then that's just fine with me.
The next four innings were just horrible. The director really should have edited them out of the final cut. The A's put two runners on in the fifth, a runner on second in the sixth, two runners on in the seventh, and two runners on in the eighth. They were all stranded. At this point, the team was 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position and the failures were getting frustrating to watch.
On the other side, the bullpen finally did its job. Dan Otero and Sean Doolittle pitched clean innings, and Luke Gregerson worked around a leadoff double to finish off the eighth. The ninth inning arrived, and we still had a tie game. OK, I'm starting to understand why they included these
scenes innings in the movie game. The director wanted to build suspense!
Josh Fields entered for the ninth. In his last appearance, he'd blown a save against the Mariners by serving up a walk-off home run to Kyle Seager. That's called foreshadowing! Fields began by hitting Brandon Moss with a pitch. It was obviously not intentional, so don't worry about that. Alberto Callaspo followed with a single, and the rally was officially on. Craig Gentry laid down a bunt to move the runners up, but he placed it so perfectly that Fields had no play when he finally picked it up. He bobbled it a bit, but it was ruled a hit, probably because the scorer couldn't handle the irony of giving an error to a guy named Fields.
With the bases loaded, Barton stepped to the plate. Man, this director is really nailing it here. The most controversial player on the team placed in the biggest spot in the game, with the chance to either take a lead with a hit or kill a rally with a double play. He did his darndest to achieve the latter by hitting a hard grounder right at Altuve, but with the infield drawn in the second baseman didn't have enough time to react and the ball bounced off of him and dribbled into right field. Moss and Callaspo scored, and Gentry followed them when George Springer overran the ball and had to backtrack to pick it up. A double-play grounder turned into a three-run single. What a twist!
Oakland piled on a bit after that. Nick Punto doubled to right, and Fields was replaced by Anthony Bass. Fields had faced five batters, and all five of them scored. Coco greeted Bass by knocking in a run with a groundout. Derek Norris hit a long double to left-center to drive in Punto, and Donaldson capped things off with a monster home run to left. As pointed out by JJ209 in the Game Thread, this explained why the Astros chose to issue umbrellas as the promotional giveaway tonight: Donaldson brought the rain.
Just when you thought there was nothing left to see here, Athletics history was made. Bass hit Moss with a pitch, which set the following record:
Neither one appeared intentional, although you could probably convince yourself that the second one was if you wanted. Either way, the A's finally retaliated in the bottom of the inning when Fernando Abad plunked Castro. Warnings were issued, and Bo Porter was upset that the umpire didn't toss Abad in the same fashion that Paul Clemens had been booted the night before. He can't have been serious here; a Clemens/Lowrie match-up was the closest to high-alert that an umpire could be on when it comes to looking for trouble because Clemens had already thrown at Lowrie in a recent game, whereas Abad's HBP was the obvious retaliation that usually closes the book on this kind of thing. One clearly deserved immediate ejection, and one clearly deserved a warning. This is the "game taking care of itself" stuff that Porter was talking about, except he was on the wrong side of it because he was in the wrong all along. He was also ejected, obviously. I expect that we've finally seen the end of the Jed Lowrie Bunting Incident, just eight days after it stupidly began. I think I'll wait to like the Astros until Porter has been fired, which should be around July sometime.
It took slightly over four hours, but the A's won another laugher in Houston. They are now 5-0 against the Astros this year, and I heard on the radio that their winning percentage against Houston is the best by any one team against another team in MLB history. (I believe that record is now 25-5, but please correct me if I'm wrong; 5-0 this year, 14-5 last year, 6-0 in previous interleague play).
This won't last forever. Eventually, the Astros will have some players break out and they will return to respectability. That could happen this summer, or it could happen in 2016, but it's gonna happen. But for now, I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts. Heck, I could watch this movie every day.
There will be another showing of the A's/Astros comedy of errors tomorrow at 4:10 p.m. There will be a slight casting change, as Dan Straily will play the role of winning pitcher and Dallas Keuchel will play Guy Who Gives Up Five Runs In The First Inning. Jeremy will have your thread.
Extra scene at the end of the credits: For those who are lamenting that Billy Beane passed on re-signing Grant Balfour in order to acquire Jim Johnson, the Mad Aussie walked three and served up five runs in the ninth to blow a save in Chicago in monumental fashion. The deciding blow was a walk-off grand slam by Jose Abreu, his ninth dinger of the year and second of the game. I think I could hear Hawk Harrelson yelling from here. Balfour has now walked nine batters in 10⅓ innings, with only seven strikeouts and a 6.10 ERA. And Neal Cotts gave up four runs in the eighth to allow the Mariners to come back and beat the Rangers, so Oakland is now back in sole possession of first place. See, other teams blow saves too.