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Game #141: A’s Outlast Astros For Needed Win

It was necessarily pretty, but the A’s got it done today after failing to do so last night. A.J. Griffin was solid early, swerved around in the 3rd and 4th, and finished with a bang. Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie provided most of the offense, with Chris Young contributing both some bad and good luck. With this, and the Angels finally taking a game from the Rangers, the A’s finish out the day in sole possession of first place in the AL West by a half-game.

Dude, where's my command?
Dude, where's my command?
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

A.J. Griffin started the the game strong, allowing only a double and a walk in the first and second innings, respectively. In their half of the second, the A's would draw first blood on back-to-back singles for Yoenis Cespedes and Nate Freiman.  Then, up would come Alberto Callaspo, who grounded into a force play that also featured a key defensive lapse by Jonathan Villar. Instead of immediately throwing to first, where they had a passing chance at Callspo, he looked to third in an attempt to nail Cespedes. With that extra out, Chris Young would deliver a textbook push bunt (albeit with unorthodox setup) to bring home Cespedes and give the A's a 1-0 lead

In the third, however, the Astros would plate their first run and then some. Making up for his error, Villar would send a double to right with one out. Jose Altuve, a thorn in the side of the A's so far this series, would then single just out of Callaspo's reach to tie it. After a bloop single by Trevor Crowe to center and a Jason Castro flyout that would move the runners up, Matt Dominguez would drill a Griffin curveball for a two-run single to give the Astros a 3-1 lead. Of course this game wouldn't be easy!

Luckily, the A's came right back in the bottom half. After a misplay on an at-em-ball at center-fielder Brandon Barnes by Donaldson for a double, Jed Lowrie would smoke a double into the left-center field gap for to cut the deficit to 3-2. A Cespedes single - he started the game 2-for-2 - would move Lowrie to 3rd and Nate Freiman would again vicitimize his former team, sending an infield single up the middle to tie the contest at 3-all. There were still no outs, but Callaspo would ground into a 5-3 double play and Moss would strike out to end the frame. Again, however, the Astros would come back. A Brett Wallace single, Barnes HBP, and Cody Clark sacrifice bunt would put runners at second and third for Villar. Apparently liking what he saw from Chris Young, Villar would push a bunt past Griffin himself, giving the Astros a lead again. Griffin would get out of it, though, as Altuve would pop out and Trevor Crowe would fly out ti right to end the inning. This situation perfectly illustrates why bunting is often a bad plan, but can work with the right batter. Clark gave up an out to move the runners up, which set up Villar's perfect bunt; but in doing so, the Astros only scored one run. Again, to review: bunting for a hit with a fast runner on the mound is good, bunting in the 4th inning with two on and nobody out, probably not so good.

The A's would take the lead for good in the bottom half. With one out, and a Coco Crisp walk and Donaldson single, Jed Lowrie would lace a single up the middle to tie it, scoring Crisp easily and knocking Keuchel out of the game. In came Mr. Perfect Game himself Philip Humber out of the bullpen, who gave up an RBI groundout to Cespedes and got Freiman out on the same. How the runs score don't really matter, though, and those two outs led to a run that would give the A's a lead they would not relinquish. Griffin also seemed to be jazzed by this idea of having a lead, striking out 5 of the last 6 batters he faced, including the side in the 5th and Barnes and Clark in the 6th. Josh Donaldson would cap his great night a triple short of the cycle with a two-run home run deep to left-center to give the A's a 7-4 advantage.

Griffin would finish 6 today, allowing no home runs (!!!!) and only one walk over 98 pitches (66 strikes). Don't look now, but in his last three starts, Griffin has allowed only 3 HR, 3 walks, and had 20 K's. As for the rest of the pitching, Sean Doolittle pitched an uneventful 7th, striking out 2 (and looking better lately), while Ryan Cook allowed a double to Carter, a single to Wallace, and then struck out L.J. Hoes on a perfectly placed outside corner fastball at 95 MPH.

Then the ninth. Let's just forget about what happened in the inning for a second. Grant Balfour still looks bad. He has no command of what he's throwing out there, despite still having good enough pure stuff to get some guys out. He's had a pretty decent workload this season and last, so perhaps it's a good time to give him a rest for a week or 10 days. The A's have a deep bullpen now with rosters expanded, and maybe Brett Anderson can close (though I never thought I'd say that seriously). Yes, he was vicitmized by some BABIP and good approach (Villar's single and Altuve's single, respectively) and bad defense (Sogard's bobbled potential second out), but he got insanely lucky that Brandon Moss made an excellent play to his right and Jed Lowrie again saved a bad throw from going towards third base, and Matt Dominguez struck out on a high fastball at his eyes. Make no mistake: Balfour will blow another save this year at least unless he finds a higher gear in there somewhere.

All that said, a win is a win is a win. Tomorrow's a new day against the excellent rookie Brett Oberholtzer, who will be no pushover. Dan Straily needs to be in excellent form to beat him, and the A's will need to score some runs. Gametime is at 1:05. Goodnight everybody!