Let's begin with the most exciting aspect of today's loss, that being Barry Zito's 2015 debut. Barry entered in a relief appearance to start the bottom of the eighth inning. His first batter was 20-year old Carlos Correa. Radio announcer Ken Korach referred to this moment as exhibiting the grand circle of life with the A's 1999 first-round pick out of USC facing the young rookie. Hyperbole aside, Barry's curveball had all the movement we remember baffling hitters with that classic 12-to-6 dip:
Forget the other thing(s). This is how I'll choose to remember Zito's comeback. https://t.co/QcVmRq9pNy— Ryan Thibs (@NotMrTibbs) September 20, 2015
Meanwhile Barry's fastball topped out at a very promising 86 mph. Ultimately, the comeback was a bit anti-climactic, however, as Barry gave up a 2-run home run to Colby Rasmus. Final line: 1.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 0 K.
The shot gave the Astros a 5-1 lead in what was otherwise a fairly straightforward game that saw Houston starter Collin McHugh work eight efficient innings against the A's.
After a 1-2-3 first for Collin, the A's struck in the second, but also made the invariable 2015 blunder that has plagued this team all year. The inning began with Danny Valencia getting pitched high and tight, which caused a row between pitcher and batter. No warnings were issued, though, and Valencia responded with a single to left. That was followed by a Billy Butler single advancing Valencia to second. After a Stephen Vogt strikeout on one of Collin's signature curveballs and a fly out that advanced Valencia to third, Marcus Semien hit a hard double into the right-center gap.
Now Valencia scored without a problem from third, but Bulter was still at first base. As we all know, travelling 90-feet for good 'ole Country Breakfast is no easy task. Perhaps because the young Carson Blair was on-deck with two outs, Ron Washington decided to push the envelope and waive Butler home. Not only was Butler gunned down for the third out by about 50 feet, Astros catcher Max Stassi literally had time to have a seat, take a sip of tea, and contemplate the stark reality of Man's place in this universe before tagging Butler. No way, no how was Butler going to score on that play.
Valencia did score, though, so Aaron Brooks took the ball in the bottom of the second looking for a shut-down inning with a 1-0 lead. Alas, the first batter Rasmus hit a laser to right that bounced off the foul pole to tie the game at 1-1. Aaron then allowed a single to Evan Gattis, but a slick 3-6-1 double play by Butler and Semien quickly got two outs before Stassi struck out.
Going into the third inning the game was tied, but the A's failed to present Collin with much trouble in the middle innings before a pivotal seventh. Oakland went down 1-2-3 in the third and fourth innings. Semien worked a two-out walk in the fifth, but Blair popped out. Again, the A's went down 1-2-3 in the sixth. Then in the seventh, Vogt walked before Jake Smolinski hit a hard liner to the left field corner. Arguably, Vogt could have been waived home on this occasion, but Wash may have been feeling gun-shy after the Butler debacle in the second inning. So with men on second and third with two outs Semien came to the plate in a critical at bat, but ended up striking out to end the threat.
Semien's at bat was pivotal because the Astros were up 3-1 at the time. Aaron looked sharp at times, getting a 1-2-3 bottom of the fourth inning. But the fifth saw him badly hang a slider to George Springer with a man on second for a two-run home run. The two-run lead for the Astros would last into the eighth inning until the aforementioned two-run jack by Rasmus, his second of the game, off of Barry that put the game away. Aaron Brooks did look better today reducing his walk total, but his ERA still stands above seven. Final line: 7.0 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K.
On the other side, Collin McHugh pitched a marathon 113 pitches for eight innings of work. He also had eight strike outs compared to only two walks for the win to go 17-7 on the season.
The A's have Monday off before starting the final home-stand of the 2015 season on Tuesday against the Rangers.