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Game #100: A's Streak Ends, And So Does Balfour's

Well....neither streak could last forever, but nobody expected them both to end on the same night.

To help dull the pain of tonight's loss, spend some time trying to figure out what's going on here...
To help dull the pain of tonight's loss, spend some time trying to figure out what's going on here...

Normally, I start writing my recaps sometime around the eighth inning. This was the opening paragraph of the recap I started writing in the middle of the eighth, after Brandon Moss had hit what I believed to be a game-winning, two-run home run:

It was mentioned many times in the game thread that when the A's play the Astros, it seems to be less of an "if" that they'll win, and more of a "how". Unlike last night, Oakland never trailed, but tonight's victory was far from assured, even once Brandon Moss came through with a two-out, two-run home run into the second deck that gave the A's a 4-2 lead.

What can I say? It was the Astros. The A's had won 13 straight games against them, and they'd been pulling wins out of their pockets against them all season long. They had a two-run lead, and Sean Doolittle and Grant Balfour primed and ready to go to close out the Astros in the final to innings. Blame me if you like for penning a winning recap before the winning had been done, but superstitions aside, the bottom line is that no MLB team — much less a contender like the A's — can play as sloppily as Oakland did during the past two games and expect to come away with two wins. As a matter of fact, the A's were probably lucky to come away with just one.

The scoring went back and forth throughout the game — each side struck for a run in the 1st, then the A's took a 2-1 lead in the 3rd, then Houston tied it in the 5th, then the A's took a 4-2 lead in the 8th. And then, the part that's not worth writing about but needs to be recounted nonetheless.

Balfour ran into trouble almost as soon as he threw one pitch in the 9th inning. The frame began with a Justin Maxwell come-backer deflecting off of Balfour's glove and to his right, forcing the Aussie to scramble laterally off the mound and to try to make a desperate throw from one knee to get the runner. Balfour should've put it in his pocket, but he didn't. The throw sailed into right field (how many times have we written that this series?), and Maxwell advanced to second base.

It turned out that Balfour's errant throw didn't matter. Maxwell would've made it to first base anyway, and he still would'ved scored on Dominguez's booming home run towards the fake train they have above the left-center field wall at Minute Maid Park. Grant Balfour's consecutive saves streak ended at 44, and the A's found themselves in a tie game in the bottom of the 9th inning with absolutely none of the momentum.

Jonathan Villar then hit a double down the left field line, and Jose Altuve worked a walk, putting runners at first and second with only one out. Balfour then threw a pitch to Jason Castro that got away from Norris, and everything went disastrously wrong. An Astros' baserunning mistake turned into potentially the luckiest thing to happen to that team all year — Altuve found himself halfway between first and second base, having expected Villar to try and advance on the passed ball. Villar held up, though, and Norris had an opportunity to throw Altuve out going back to first base.

But the throw was low, and instead of using his body to block the ball and prevent the game-winning run from scoring, Moss played it like a first baseman is trained to play it, but failed to make the scoop. The ball rolled into right field (seriously, that is at least the fourth time this series that an Oakland A's player has unintentionally thrown a ball into the foul territory behind first base), and Villar came all the way around to score, diving in well ahead of Moss' three-hop throw to the plate.

Oh, well. You can't win them all, and even though this is the most painful loss the A's have endured all year, I'll go ahead and be content with the fact that the A's are still 12-1 this season against Houston. It does suck that the Rangers also blew a late lead tonight and had Balfour saved this one successfully, Oakland's lead in the AL West would be four games. But like I said...12-1.

The A's will try to avoid the unthinkable series loss to the Astros tomorrow afternoon (actually, late morning on the West Coast). First pitch is at 11:10am PT, and the pitching matchup features A.J. Griffin for the A's and Bud Norris for Houston. Yoenis Cespedes should be back, too! The A's shouldn't sweat this one too much, and neither should you. Because sometimes you just lose. And we're 12-1 against the Astros.