Ladies and gentlemen, I have bad news. The Houston Astros are a Major League team now. Sure, they're still prone to bad plays and losing streaks, but they're no longer a joke. They can pitch a little bit, sometimes, and they can hit for serious power -- they're fourth in the Majors in home runs. Heck, they aren't even in last place anymore, as the Rangers' nightmare season has dropped them all the way to the cellar. On Monday, the fourth-place Astros showed the Oakland Athletics that they are capable of taking over a game, as they blasted four homers en route to a 7-3 victory in the series opener at Minute Maid Park.
The game actually looked promising at the beginning. The A's jumped out to an early lead in the second when Josh Donaldson doubled and came home on a shift-busting RBI single to right-center by Derek Norris. Donnie kind of dogged it home and nearly got gunned down on a terrible throw that went 10 feet up the line, but he took a page from The Nate Freiman Handbook Of Sliding and tumbled as awkwardly as possible around the catcher and across the plate. In the third, Stephen Vogt crushed a homer into the second deck in right field to make it 2-0, presumably because peppering singles and doubles all around the park was getting boring for him. If you don't believe in Stephen Vogt yet, then I just don't know what to tell you. He is as hot as a hitter can possibly be.
Jesse Chavez looked good in the first two innings, but he ran into trouble in the third. Before the game, I had been stressing out that Gregorio Petit, a former Athletics backup infielder, was now wearing an Astros uniform. After all, former Athletics have been destroying the A's this year, as if having once dipped their toes in the green and gold river has given them a small share of the superpowers that have been bestowed upon Oakland this season whenever they are in close proximity. The only way to beat the A's is with one of their own, turned in battle against them. However, I had my focus on the wrong former Athletics infielder. Instead, it was Chris Carter who broke the spell by launching a three-run homer well over the 406 sign in left-center field. Just like that, the Astros had the lead. (Spell check just underlined that entire sentence in red for some reason.)
Two things happened in the fifth inning. The A's tied the game, and the baseball gods made it clear that Oakland would not leave with a victory. With Jed Lowrie on first, Stephen Vogt hit a ball that would have been a homer in at least 25 parks. In Minute Maid, though, it went at least 400 feet to center and then bounced off the warning track, settling into the bare hands of a fan in the stands. It would have easily been an RBI triple for Vogt (I told you, he was tired of singles and doubles), but instead the runners were held at second and third. It makes you wonder if the ground-rule double still makes sense or if it should be revised in some way, either to give umpires the discretion to place runners (like on any other live ball that ends up in the stands) or to allow the possibility of a runner scoring from first when it's clear he would have scored anyway.
As it turned out, the bad hop cost them. Yoenis Cespedes lifted a sac fly to right, and Lowrie scored easily. Had Vogt's hit stayed in the park, Lowrie would have already been in the dugout and it would have been Vogt scoring on the sac fly. Instead, he was eventually stranded on third and the game remained tied. Sometimes, it's just not your day.
In the sixth inning, though, things went really wrong. Jason Castro blasted a two-run homer to right-center field, and Marc Krauss followed with a no-doubter to the second deck in right. Chavez exited in favor of Dan Otero, and Jon Singleton nearly made it back-to-back-to-back but saw his shot go just foul. Don't fret, though; after he ultimately flied out, Matt Dominguez picked him up by smoking the ball so hard to left that it nearly went out of the stadium. This was not a cheap one into the Crawford Boxes; it might have been the longest bomb of the night, which is saying a lot.
The tie game was quickly a 7-3 Houston advantage, and there it would stay for the rest of the evening. There would be excitement, but sadly no comeback. Josh Reddick made a pair of fantastic catches in the seventh, one going back into the right-field corner and the other racing in and diving for a low liner by Jose Altuve. Fernando Abad struck out the side in the eighth. And Billy Burns made his MLB debut!
In the ninth, Burns pinch-hit for Reddick against left-hander Tony Sipp. On the first pitch, Sipp blew a 93 mph fastball past him for strike one. Burns was way behind on the pitch, and Sipp must have thought so too because he went right back to it for his next offering. However, the next one missed just outside for ball one. Sipp changed it up a bit on his third pitch, literally, by throwing a change-up; Burns laid off as it dipped down inside and out of the zone. On the 2-1, Burns swung at a 94 mph fastball right over the plate and lined it sharply into right field. It went right at Robbie Grossman for an easy out, but I mean, it was a Major League-caliber lineout. If that falls, it goes all the way to the wall for a quintle, which is where Burns goes all the way around for a run and then keeps going to first base again, like in kickball when you were a kid. See the video of his lineout for yourself.
The teAse came right after Burns was extinguished. With two outs, Nick Punto and Lowrie drew walks off of Sipp. Vogt went to a 3-0 count, but Sipp regained his head and worked a full count before inducing a 400-foot flyout to center to end the game. But hey, as usual, the A's fought down to the last out and darn near made a game of it.
As I like to say after a sound defeat, you can't win 'em all. In baseball, sometimes the other team just plays better, and that time was tonight. There's no real goat here except for Chavez's rough outing, and that's just something that happens now and then. Of course, the A's lost the series opener against the Astros last week and against the Rangers last weekend, and then they went on to win both series by salvaging the final two games of each. Now, the two former Cubs, Shark and Hammel, will try to continue that trend in the final two contests in this one. On the down side, the A's lost. On the bright side, Vogt is still crazy hot and we got to see Billy Burns play Major League Baseball, at least for a minute. Not a terrible day overall.
To end on a high note, here is a video of Burns scoring from second on a sac fly in a minor league game this year.