As Comcast SportsNet went to commercial at the end of the 8th inning, Glen Kuiper said something funny.
"The A's need three to tie, and four to take the lead."
Oh, Glen. Were you even watching this game? The A's didn't look capable of coming up with three batted balls that weren't pop-ups near the edge of the infield grass. Four runs to take the lead? Really?
Well, the A's scored six. They took a lead. A three-run lead. And the streak of losing the first game of series against Texas teams but recovering to win the series is unbroken. The A's are 26 games above .500. In one half-inning, they went from hopelessly inept — a team that had lost two straight to Houston without achieving anything offensively — to a team that is still the best in baseball, and not just on paper. Let's take a look at how it happened.
Jeff Samardzija was solid tonight, allowing just one hit through his first three innings. But as always seems to be the case recently against Houston, that hit was a home run. Marwin Gonzalez didn't wait around much when he faced Samadrzija in the 1st inning, when he took a 90mph, 1-0 fastball deep to the right-field corner, giving Houston an early lead. Samardzija, unfazed, cruised through the next three innings, allowing just one hit and a walk in the process.
The A's had similar luck on the offensive side of things. John Jaso led the game off with a scorching liner just inside the first-base line, but Jon Singleton quickly snagged it. Yoenis Cespedes hit a line-drive double with two out, but Brandon Moss, who started the night 0-for-4, couldn't bring him in. Derek Norris singled in the 2nd inning but nothing came of it, and the A's were retired in order, without much resistance, in the 3rd.
Cespedes hit another double leading off the 4th, and seemingly determined to tie the game without any real help, stole third base, putting himself 90 feet away from tying things up. Josh Donaldson worked a walk to follow another Moss flyout, and Stephen Vogt had the opportunity to do major damage. He did his job, scorching a liner to third base, but in keeping with tonight's theme of Oakland futility, Matt Dominguez was there to make the grab, saving at least one run. Norris couldn't get the job done either, ending the inning with a weak fly ball to center field.
The long-awaited tying run did come, albeit unexpectedly, when Josh Reddick lined Scott Feldman's 1-1 offering just inside the right-field foul pole. Just like that, the game was tied at 1. Of course, the A's couldn't do anything else in their half of the 5th, and of course, the tie was soon broken.
The 5th inning started off innocently enough, with Robbie Grossman coming up with a one-out single. That brought up Kike Hernandez, who completely missed a hit-and-run sign, leaving his Grossman out to dry on what became a straight steal attempt of 2nd base.
The play was bang-bang; Eric Sogard took the throw and made a good tag, but Jim Joyce ruled Grossman safe at 2nd base. Bob Melvin challenged, but as replays were showed, it quickly became clear that there was nothing on camera to overturn the call. Just as Grossman's body screened Joyce from seeing Sogard's tag, no video angle contained both important pieces of information (when the tag was made and when Grossman's foot hit the bag) conclusively. Two opposite camera angles each had one of those pieces, and if the practice and technology allowed for those angles to be used simultaneously so the information from one could be compared to the other, maybe the call could have been changed.
All of that is to say that Grossman may well have been out, and there was nothing that 2014's technology could do about it. The play quickly became significant when Hernandez hit a booming triple off a column in left-center field. Left-center at Minute Made Park is tricky. Worse, Reddick and Cespedes were playing center field and left field, respectively, for the first time all season. The result was two outfielders chasing the ball and neither preparing for the carom, turning what could have been a double into an easy triple for Hernandez.
Jose Altuve followed with a single, scoring Hernandez and pushing the Astros lead to 3-1. Fittingly, once the damage was done, Norris threw Altuve out at second base trying to steal.
Oakland's offensive futility continued, as Feldman cruised to seven innings of five-hit, one-run ball. He allowed just one walk and recorded just one strikeout, and Houston added insult to injury with an RBI double from Hernandez, giving them a 4-1 lead that seemed more like 40-1.
Then came the 9th.
The 9th started like most of the other A's at-bats this game: With anything but a bang. With Astros reliever Chad Qualls striking out Vogt, to be precise. But then it started. There was an infield single to the left side from Derek Norris. Then a Josh Reddick double to left-center field. Then an Alberto Callaspo single to score both. 4-3 Astros.
Then a John Jaso groundout. Whoops.
But then Jed Lowrie worked a walk. And then Yoenis Cespedes blooped a single to the right side, and the game was tied at 4. Exit Qualls, enter Tony Sipp.
Then Brandon Moss hit a deep drive, a no-doubter down the right field line. No-doubter in terms of distance, anyway. It hooked foul by 10 feet. He came up with a single anyway, moving Cespedes to third base and scoring Lowrie. Exit Sipp, enter Jose Veras.
Then Josh Donaldson hit a three-run home run. I mean, he hit a ball about 420 feet to dead center field. That's a home run, right? No? Not in Houston? Whatever it was, it got the job done. Cespedes scored and Moss scored, and Veras intentionally walked Vogt, and Norris grounded out.
And then Sean Doolittle came on and worked a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the 9th.