To understand tonight's game, you really have to start at the end. Actually before we even start, you really have to see the forest for the trees; losses like this have been so common over the last years, that really, we should be numb to horrific losses in last at-bats. And who didn't see it coming? Both the starting pitcher Mengden and the closer Madson were punished by a bloop single by Jose Altuve, followed by an monstrous home run; in fact the ninth inning had so much doom written all over it that you were just hoping one runner was all that Houston put on base so at best, there would be bonus baseball played. And when a perfectly great strikeout elicits another baserunner...well...it's so very A's-like to hang four runs on one of the best closers in the league, one who has given up, prior to tonight, three runs all year, in the process of mounting a three-run comeback to take the lead in a five-run rally, and still lose, isn't it?
It's a shame, because the top of the ninth was perfect. Down 7-4, it would have been so easy to pack up for the night and call it a loss against Will Harris. And yet, both Billy Butler and Yonder Alonso had two of the best at-bats of the season (why they are still hitting in front of Marcus Semien is beyond me, but that's an argument for another time). To properly set the stage, let me remind you that Harris had not yet given up an extra base hit in the 2016 season. He faced five batters; three of them connected with extra base hits, and the other hit a single. And yet 9-7 still didn't feel like a proper lead, and in face, it wasn't.
This game showed no early signs of being a double-digit barn-burner. No one scored until the fourth inning, and Mengden didn't allow his first hit until the bottom of the fourth. But hey, at least he didn't take a loss, although the fifth inning should have rightly earned him one. The A's jumped on the board in the fourth against McHugh as Danny Valencia singled to open the inning and Stephen Vogt tripled him in for the first run of the game. Butler, who did have a good night, singled him in, and the A's led 2-0. Only a double-play by Alonso kept Marcus Semien's 19th home run of the year to a solo shot, but at the time, a 3-0 lead felt positively luxurious. But that's not how tonight worked.
I lamented the first hit of the game for the Astros; a broken-bat bloop single, but there was no doubt about the next one; two hits, two runs and just like that, the A's lead was cut to 3-2. The fifth was worse. Two singles and a walk loaded the bases and a single tied the game. A force out scored the fourth, and singles (one allowed by Mengden, one by Rzepczynski) scored the fifth and sixth. The A's got one back in the seventh on a passed ball, but gave it right back in the eighth, and headed into the ninth inning, down 7-4.
Butler drew a full count before he doubled to lead off the inning, and likewise, Alonso also worked hard for his full count before putting the ball over the wall to cut the score to 7-6; an epic teAse if there ever was one. And credit pinch-hitter extraordinaire, Jake Smolinski, for restarting the rally with a single; he was replaced by Tyler Ladendorf for speed. Jed Lowrie followed with a double, and Ron Washington made the split second decision with one out to hold the runner at third, despite my howls of protest. Replays pretty clearly show that the Astros would have had a great chance at the out at home; it was the right call, but it was hard to watch with Khris Davis on deck; up to that point he was 0-4 with three strikeouts. But he took the first pitch for a ball and crushed the next one into the Houston night, scoring not only the tying run, but the go-ahead one, as well. Reddick, who was having his own struggles up to this point, pulled an 0-2 pitch to score Davis, and give the A's the 9-7 lead.
And then. Well.
The inning started off with a nice, one-out-one-pitch play on a bunt attempt to Madson. And then the bloop single happened. Again. And then Vogt didn't even get a throw off on Altuve's stolen base, which may have seemed unimportant at the time, but it was the sole reason that the next play was allowed to happen. Vogt and Madson crossed up on signals and struck out their batter on a full count, but they fooled everyone in the stadium, including Vogt, and he allowed the ball to reach the backstop. Because there was one out, and first base no longer occupied, the batter took first on the dropped third strike, and with two on, it was only a matter of one really bad pitch to undo all the A's hard work.
And so we conclude our evening as losers of a 10-9 game. But at least it was interesting. With the series tied one game apiece, these two teams hook up tomorrow at 1:10 Pacific time with Graveman taking the mound.