Everyone better be playing “Celebration” right now! The A’s won an absolutely stunning game with a temporary go-ahead three-run home run in the ninth—their first runs of the night, only to see the lead evaporate under their first closer attempt, and in an atoning at-bat by Ramon Laureano in the eleventh, they took a two-run lead, watched one of the runs be reviewed off the board, headed into closer chance number two, and this time, Yusmeiro Petit held it for the win.
Maybe division-chances saving.
If you’ve ever read the novel 11/22/63, the epic novel by Stephen King, you’ll be familiar with the way the obdurate past fights hard against any change. This phenomenon is described in vivid detail, to where you feel the oppressive weight of a foregone conclusion as our heroes are helpless to change the pre-determined outcome of the event. That is how I feel when the A’s play the Astros. For four games in Minnesota, we watched as the A’s matched Minnesota punch for punch; indeed, coming just a batter away from taking three out of four; instead, settling for a split. But it’s different against this team. The A’s feel like the underdogs in absolutely every way and it’s usually a matter of only time before the Astros win or (in the case of last night’s game) run away and hide.
Tonight’s early error and second inning sheer panic looked for all the world like the game was just one hit away from a blowout, and despite the fun that was to come in the final innings of the game, the real MVP of this win was Mike Fiers, who pulled it together with a Herculean effort to right the ship, limit the damage, and darn near pitch a complete game in what looked for all the world like a losing effort the way the offense has been stifled in this series. Probably the best—and most succinct—way to describe the first eight innings of this game is that Mike Fiers deserved better. As is very much on brand A’s against the Astros for the last couple of years, things seemed to unravel at the most inopportune times; we all breathed a sigh of relief as Fiers pitched a perfect first, but things fell apart quickly in the second, thanks to one single defensive play. After a momentary lapse that resulted in loading the bases immediately after the Little League homerun, Fiers pulled himself together and came one batter from pitching eight complete innings.
Already teetering on the edge of being shut out of the AL West; falling three full games this week alone, this game was the difference between 6.5 and 8.5 games back with Justin Verlander on the mound tomorrow morning in the series finale. This series was rapidly proving that the Astros were the playoff team and the A’s didn’t have the pitching. And Mike Fiers all but said, “Not on my watch” and with sheer determination, kept them in the game until the offense finally found what they were looking for; a majestic, towering three-run home run that erased the two-run deficit and put the A’s up a run. He alone gave the A’s a fighting chance until the miraculous happened, and after the A’s squandered that; they dug down deep and conjured up another miracle. Not to be outdone, the equally valuable contribution by Yusmeiro Petit, who pitched two innings, around an error, even, to earn the win and save the game.
.The Astros’ starting pitcher Wade Miley had a arguably better night that Fiers; he was perfect through five innings, striking out the side in the first to open the game, before he finally allowed a single to Josh Phegley with one-out in the sixth. He would also make a bid to finish the game, but allowed a one-out walk to Marcus Semien and a single to Matt Chapman in the ninth, putting two runners on for one of the best moments of the entire season; an unexpected, go-ahead, three-run homerun crushed deep into the night by Matt Olson on an 0-2 pitch, atoning for his 0-3 and previous double play that stilted the rally in the seventh. The crowd went so silent during the no-doubt blast that you could clearly hear the delirious cheers of the A’s dugout as they celebrated Olson’s 21st home run of the year.
The A’s sure find interesting ways to give up runs to the Astros; after allowing eleven runs in a variety of ways last night, they allowed the first two tonight on the same play, a mental error that cost Fiers a home run on his line; his first allowed since June 11th. The second inning opened with a single from Michael Brantley; a later wild pitch moved him to third with one out. The next batter, Yuli Gurriel, smacked a line drive to center field, and Ramon Laureano made the fatal error of the do-or-die play; caught awkwardly in between the catch and the RBI single, he chose neither; instead half-diving to his knees, he missed the ball entirely—“That’s a homerun”, said the Houston announcers, and indeed, it was, a two-run, inside-the-park home run to give the Astros the 2-0 lead. With a runner on third and one out, it’s likely the Astros would have scored anyway, but it still hurt. Likely a touch rattled by the sudden turn of events, Fiers walked Reddick, allowed a two-out single to Stassi, and walked Springer to load the bases. But unlike every single pitch that Homer Bailey threw last night, Fiers threw an inning-ending ground ball that Matt Chapman tossed over to first to end the inning, and the threat. The Astros wouldn’t rally again until he was out of the game.
Other things happened in the game; Mark Canha made a nice catch; Laureano fell down on a different play, the offense struggled every single inning before Matt Olson’s huge hit, and I mean it; they recorded a single in the sixth, a leadoff walk in the seventh was erased by a double play, clearing the bases before two-out singles by Canha and the still-red-hot Laureano brought up Khris Davis, who is piloting the struggle bus merrily down the street on the way to batting ninth. He grounded out to end the seventh, with the 2-0 deficit still in play.
The A’s made barely a whimper in the eighth, but they had parting gifts for Miley on his way out in the ninth, as he walked Semien and allowed a single to Chapman before he was replaced by Osuna, who went 0-2 on Olson before Matt delivered the biggest blow of the game—of the year—against the Astros to give the A’s the lead. Once again, Khris Davis ended the inning with no further damage.
Down a closer, as Hendriks had pitched four of five games, the A’s elected to use Soria for the save, as you can imagine, it did not go that well. He got the big strike out to start the inning, but allowed a single to Yuli Gurriel, who literally never gets out, a fun fact the Astros did not account for when they pinch-ran for him as the tying run, which ironically, took an at-bat away from him (spoiler alert!) as the final batter of the game.
Josh Reddick hit a high chopper over the head of Matt Olson at first to put runners on first and third, and a long sacrifice fly tied the game, in what must have feel crushing to the A’s after the energy they expended in the comeback. FreeJurickson Profar recorded a two-out pinch-hit single to put another runner on in the tenth, but the A’s were still tied going to the bottom of the inning. Enter Petit, who kept the A’s in the game en route to the eleventh inning, rolling a double-play to make up for the leadoff error.
As if the A’s weren’t fighting an uphill battle all day, all series, all freakin’ year against the Astros’ resources, they got the short end just one more time in the 11th inning as Laureano made a bid to recover the runs he lost in the second. With one out in the 11th, Matt Olson worked a single to put himself on and after almost being hit by two pitches, Mark Canha walked. And then...Laureano doubled down the line, tucking the baseball under the wall as Reddick raced to retrieve it. Two runs scored on the play, but the umpires reviewed the call and sent Canha back to third base.
Here are some thoughts in the moment: a) Why is there a baseball-sized gap under the wall? b) Canha was rounding third, heading to the plate already c) Reddick played the live ball; he didn’t raise his hands ala a ground-rule double at all and d) If indeed it was a dead ball, why was a review necessary to place the runners at second and third? We await a further explanation.
Thoughts soon after: e) Khris Davis should be batting ninth or back on the IL as he popped up, leaving runners at second and third with one out, unable to re-score the A’s fifth run. And once again, up a single run, the A’s tried to nail down the game again, leaving in Petit for a second inning. Color me wrong; I would have used Treinen for his upside. I might have used him in place of Soria, even. But Bob Melvin elected to use what was working, and it worked. Never a doubt, one, two, three and the A’s win.
It was glorious. Just amazing. So satisfying. 10/10 would recommend.
Now, if only some of tonight’s magic would rub off for tomorrow’s contest as the A’s face Verlander at 11:00AM sharp. We’ll see you back here with all the action.
LET’S GO OAK-LAND!