What is it with Minute Maid Park? Houston’s ballpark has been the death of the A’s the past two seasons, and today was no exception. Rather than your classic “Evan Gattis hitting a double off a ball above his head,” though, we got a botched block by Bruce Maxwell in the 8th inning which allowed the Astros to keep trickling runs in when they should have been back in the dugout.
Early offense, then once again nothing
The A’s seem to have found their identity as a team, and it is to score a run or three early in the game and then coast for the rest of the day. All of their runs came in the 2nd inning. Alonso dribbled a ball into center field for a single, then Joey Wendle reached base in his first major league at-bat. He smashed the ball to Carlos Correa, who fumbled a tough hop. It was ultimately ruled an error, but could and possibly should have been a hit because the ball had some serious charge to it. Jake Smolinski came up to bat next and promptly clobbered a ball to deep left center field, driving in both runners and making it all the way to third with a 2-RBI triple. The A’s continued to flash good situational hitting (key word being flash - there wasn’t nearly enough to save this game), as Bruce Maxwell came through with a sacrifice fly to center field to quickly up the score to 3-0. Semien walked and then was caught stealing to end the inning, but the A’s had already come through with the big hits missing the first two games of this series.
Unfortunately, that was it. The A’s had numerous other opportunities to score in the game but did nothing with them. Vogt doubled in the first inning, but like the last couple of days, the A’s failed to capitalize on the opportunity. Weak contact from Alonso and an all-too-predictable strikeout on a breaking ball by Khris Davis quickly ended the threat.
The A’s loaded the bases but could not score in the 3rd. Vogt and Davis singled and Alonso walked, but Healy got fooled by a couple of unhittable curveballs and Joey Wendle put together a long at-bat but couldn’t produce any runs. They stranded more runners in the 4th and 5th, then accomplished little else the rest of the game on offense.
Strong outing from Detwiler
Ross Detwiler had another excellent outing, his first since his Oakland debut. He gave up only 1 earned run through 7 innings, walking 2 and allowing 3 hits to go with his 7 strikeouts.
Detwiler didn’t allow his first baserunner until the 3rd inning, with a leadoff double to Marwin Gonzalez. Fortunately, Detwiler was able to induce some timely popups for outs which prevented Gonzalez from scoring even after advancing to third on a deep fly out.
The Astros finally got on the board in the 4th inning thanks to a leadoff walk to Alex Bregman. After Altuve popped out, Carlos Correa drilled a ball down the third base line into the corner, giving Bregman plenty of time to get home and get the Astros their first run. Fortunately that would be their only run of the inning, as after Evan Gattis worked a walk, Gurriel grounded into a double play to bail out Detwiler. Wendle turned the double play expertly.
Detwiler looked especially strong in the 6th and 7th innings, garnering four strikeouts against some of the Astros’ best hitters and inducing pop-ups for the remaining outs. He left after 7 innings and 102 pitches, having thrown an extremely good game. I just wish he could have gone two more innings, but then again, this loss doesn’t fully fall on the bullpen.
8th inning Astros comeback
Hendriks comes out to pitch for Oakland in the 8th. He got two outs then gave up a triple to George Springer - sure, that’s fair, Springer is an excellent hitter. Hendriks did his job and struck out Alex Bregman for what should have been the final out of the inning, but the ball bounced away from Bruce Maxwell, allowing Springer to score and Bregman to reach first base, putting the Astros within one run. Maxwell had already blocked a couple of balls in the inning, but all it took was the one to get by him to give the Astros a run. In general it seems that Maxwell has struggled a lot with blocking balls, and the missed block tonight proved to be the game changing moment. With a bonus life, the incorrigible Jose Altuve launched a ball to deep right field, a triple that brought Bregman home and tied the game 3-3. Oakland intentionally walked Carlos Correa, then Hendriks hung a breaking ball to Evan Gattis. Gattis didn’t miss, singling to left field to bring Altuve home and give the Astros a 4-3 lead.
The missed block on the Bregman strikeout is made even more frustrating because the same thing happened with Joey Wendle in the top of the 8th (he even advanced to second base on another wild pitch), but the A’s were able to do nothing with the gifted opportunity while the Astros used their chance to turn the game around.
Joey Wendle’s debut
While Joey Wendle doesn’t have a hit to show for his first major league game, he had a really solid day all around. Besides the blast to Correa that was ultimately ruled an error, he also made extremely solid contact in the 5th inning, coming this close to hitting a 2-run home run that ultimately would have completely altered this game.
He also flashed some nice defense, turning a solid double play and running down a couple of pop-ups that leadfoot Jed wouldn’t have come anywhere near.
So while he doesn’t have much to show for it, Wendle had a strong major league debut. He definitely looks like he has earned this shot in the big leagues.
Please, get us out of Minute Maid Park and let us never have to come back again. The only A that seems to like it is Jake Smolinski, who made yet another excellent catch on Tal’s Hill. For the rest of the team, this ballpark has been filled with unspeakable horrors. Time to come back to the friendlier confines of the Coliseum for this weekend’s series against the Red Sox.