“He was never without misery, and never without hope.” - Catch 22
This was quintessentially the most interesting, exciting, and harrowing game of the A’s season so far. The first two innings took nearly an hour and a half to complete, with twists and turns coming at every nook and cranny, literally. The Astros recorded seven walks and five infield singles. The strike zone, to put it lightly, was “quirky.” By the time the final out was recorded, roughly four hours had passed, and the Astros literally walked off the field with a 9-8 victory. There have been better days for the A’s. There have been worse days for the A’s.
Hope - Part 1
Astros starter Brad Peacock didn’t have his best stuff in the first inning. While possessing a very strong slider-fastball combination, Peacock frequently got ahead of hitters before trying to be too fine and make a perfect strikeout pitch, causing him to then fall behind and eventually lose the hitter. He went 0-2 on Robbie Grossman before giving up a single three pitches later. He battled Matt Chapman for eight pitches before giving up a chopped ground ball single to third base. He got ahead of Stephen Piscotty 1-2 before eventually walking him.
Misery - Part 1
With Khrush getting the day off, Kendrys Morales hit the hardest ball of the inning on a low line drive to second base, with Altuve snatching the ball off of his shoe tops. Unfortunately, Chapman misread the batted ball and was doubled off of second base, completely changing the makeup of the inning. What had been bases loaded and no outs was suddenly first and third with two outs.
Hope - Part 2
With two outs in the top of the first, and Chad Pinder taking on a righty with an elite slider, the feeling of disappointment coming up empty after loading the bases with no outs was percolating. After fouling off a first pitch fastball, Pinder launched a hanging slider from Peacock high up in the air. As the broadcast lost track of where the ball was, Michael Brantley in left field stopped, confused, and the ball clanked off of the Crawford Boxes behind him, within a catchable range. As it turns out, the ball was hit so high it collided with a rafter on the Minute Maid Park roof while in fair territory, meaning the ball was in play, and the two A’s on base raced around to score. Pinder spent several seconds watching the ball soar, but still managed to end up at second base despite not running out of the box.
Pinder knocked one off a roof beam pic.twitter.com/F8IMm2ExcS— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) April 7, 2019
Misery - Part 2
Mike Fiers took the mound for the A’s in the bottom of the first, and needed just three low-90s fastballs to strike out George Springer to begin the bottom half of the inning. Things, unfortunately, flew off the handle from there. Jose Altuve followed the strikeout with a laughably uncompetitive walk, and Alex Bregman followed that with a sharp first pitch single to left to put men on first and second. Despite struggling with his control, Fiers then managed to induce a weak ground ball from Michael Brantley into the shift, but miraculously the ball snuck through the shift for a soft single and the first run for the Astros scored, Bregman advancing to third. Carlos Correa half swung and hit a soft ground ball to third, but it was hit too softly for Chapman to do anything with and the Astros’ second run scored, Correa safe at first.
Josh Reddick sought to capitalize on a not-sharp Fiers, and lofted a fly ball to right field that looked completely certain to fall for a single, if not a double, but Piscotty went horizontal and made the best defensive play by an A’s player this season.
Although the catch felt potentially game-saving, despite it just being the first inning, the wind was immediately taken out of the A’s sails when Aledmys Diaz, who had done nothing at the plate this year, launched an 0-2 offering from Fiers on a low line drive into the first row of the right field stands. Piscotty nearly caught this ball as well, but the ball was hit too hard for him to retreat to the wall in time. The A’s had immense good fortune in the first inning, but in the blink of an eye, the team was down 5-2. Two more Astros reached base, and the team batted around, before Fiers was able to retire Springer a second time to stop the bleeding.
Hope - Part 3
The team in slight arrears after a disastrous bottom half of the first, the A’s made two very quick, very quiet outs to open the second. With Josh Phegley at the plate, the catcher lifted a shallow pop fly to left center field. Correa, Brantley, and Springer all converged on the ball, but it somehow managed to fall between the three of them, each fielder just a few feet away from making an inning-ending catch. Grossman came to the plate, with the lineup having turned over, and Grossman didn’t hesitate to deposit Peacock’s offering well into the right field seats.
For a laugh, Chapman followed the home run by hitting a high foul pop up near third base. After camping underneath the ball, Bregman suddenly changed directions before corralling the ball. As it turns out, once again, the ball hit the roof of the stadium. However, unlike with Pinder’s RBI double, because Chapman’s ball hit the roof in foul territory, stadium rules declare that the ball is dead, and Chapman got a do-over. He then hit a ground ball to short, which was mishandled by Correa to go for an error. The A’s could not capitalize on the mistake, but at the very least forced Peacock to through several more pitches before the inning was done, the A’s down just 5-4.
Misery - Part 3
Looking to bounce back from a poor first, Fiers did not. An infield single, a seeing-eye single, and a walk led to a bases-loaded, two outs situation, with first inning villain Diaz at the plate. Once again, despite being a relative zero at the dish, Mike Fiers continued to struggle with his control and gave up a bases loaded walk. Arguably, two of the called balls could have been called strikes with another person calling balls and strikes, but Fiers had been struggling and it is understandable that he didn’t get the favorable ruling. Also, there should be robot umpires. There were many-a bad calls to come.
J.B. Wendelken came in to end Fiers’ day and end the threat with a strikeout of Max Stassi, with the Astros ahead 6-4.
Hope - Part 4
Wendelken had himself a game. When all was said and done, he pitched three and a third innings, and netted himself four strikeouts while allowing just one hit. After saving the A’s from a bases loaded jam for his first batter, Wendelken also battled around a bad-luck ground rule double that spun over the short wall in shallow right field. What had been a game slowly dragging its way through the mud suddenly started to pick up pace, and it was all thanks to J.B.
The A’s drew themselves closer as well. Ramon Laureano continued to hit his former team well by nearly taking Peacock’s head off in the top of the fourth inning with a single to center field. For a while, it looked as though he would be stranded on base, but Grossman maintained his torrid start to the game and hit a double literally off of the chalk in deep left field for an RBI double, leaving Grossman just a triple shy of the cycle. With Wendelken holding the Astros down, the A’s were now within one, 6-5.
The A’s turned through their lineup next time around without doing much of anything, and didn’t see another baserunner until the one and only Laureano knocked another single. Peacock was removed from the game, his pitch count nearing 100 after five innings pitched, and Josh James had taken his place on the mound. There were two outs in the inning, and Phegley strode up to the plate. With a mighty rip, Phegley smashed a James offering home run distance, but well foul. Then he hit a home run.
Suddenly, the A’s were on top 7-6 long after fumbling away their lead in the first. With Joakim Soria, Lou Trivino, and Blake Treinen all very well rested, the game plan moving forward from this point was obvious.
Misery - Part 4
Soria did his job, albeit in an uncomfortable fashion. It took Soria ten pitches to retire his first batter, Springer, before giving up back to back singles to put the tying run in scoring position with the Astros cleanup man coming up to the plate. Fortunately, Brantley hit a crisp ground ball to Jurickson Profar and a double play eliminated the threat and ended the inning.
Things got better, for a moment, when Pinder blasted the A’s third home run of the game to deep left center field in the eighth inning. A solo shot that made the score 8-6. Then Marcus Semien tried to stretch a double into a triple and got thrown out at third. Then Profar was gifted first base on a hit by pitch, and he got himself to third on a stolen base and throwing error from Max Stassi. Then he got thrown out between third and home after running on contact on a ball hit to a drawn-in Bregman at third base. The A’s did not score for the rest of the game.
Trivino relieved Soria, and in the seventh needed just eight pitches to retire the Astros. In the eighth, however, the wheels started to fall off. Tony Kemp, the nine-hole hitter who doesn’t do much at the plate, hit a solo home run of his own to match Pinder’s and bring the Astros back within one run. George Springer hit a double to maintain the threat, and Trivino was replaced by Treinen. Treinen immediately gave up an infield single to put the runners on first and third, and then a Bregman sac-fly tied the game up, despite Laureano’s best efforts to throw Springer out at home, coming up just short on his throw.
The A’s went down in order in the ninth, and Treinen returned to the hill to try and send the game into extras. Perhaps not having pitched since Tuesday impacting his performance, Treinen walked Josh Reddick after falling behind him 3-0, and then gave up a first pitch single to, of course, Aledmys Diaz to place runners on first and second. A heads up play by Treinen rendered an attempted sacrifice bunt useless, but a walk to none other than Tony Kemp immediately placed the A’s back in hot water, the bases loaded and just one out with the game tied in the bottom of the ninth.
George Springer struck out to put a period on a poor game at the plate for him to make it two outs. Treinen’s first offering to Jose Altuve nearly hit him. His second pitch nearly hit him. His third pitch never threatened the zone. Treinen’s final offering of the game never threatened the zone, and the game was over, the Astros having literally walked off on the A’s and their well-rested, imposing bullpen.
A Miserable Conclusion
The A’s got swept by a division rival and fall back below .500, the team’s first road trip getting off to an uninspiring start. It was death by a thousand paper cuts for Oakland today, as seven Astros walked and five reached base on infield singles to keep constant pressure on the A’s pitching staff and sneak extra runs across the plate. This is not the type of game the A’s typically lose, given the team’s strengths and weaknesses, to make the loss extra tough.
The umpiring was bad, but this loss was on the A’s. The team fought hard to claw back from an early deficit, but ultimately couldn’t put the game away. This loss can easily be forgotten with a strong following week, which can be done considering the A’s next opponents are Baltimore and Texas. The Astros are a good team, and earned the sweep in every way. It is on the A’s to make a statement the next time the teams go head to head.
Revengeance is in order.