The Oakland Athletics (58-45), riding high after last night’s dramatic extra-innings comeback, failed to seal the series win against the Houston Astros (66-38) at Minute Maid Park today. Led by All-Star Justin Verlander, the Astros’ pitchers struck out A’s batters 14 times and prevailed 4-2 in today’s tiebreaker.
The A’s exploited two early Astros errors to take the lead in the first inning. Leading off, shortstop Marcus Semien reached first on a tough play that Astros third baseman Alex Bregman couldn’t quite execute. Bregman managed to corral the ball, but his throw to Yuli Gurriel at first base was offline and ruled an error. Following a popout by third baseman Matt Chapman, A’s first baseman Matt Olson singled to Astros right fielder Josh Reddick, who juggled the ball, allowing Semien to score all the way from first. A’s starter Chris Bassitt came out strong in the bottom of the first, striking out center fielder George Springer, second baseman José Altuve, and Bregman in succession.
After two perfect innings in which he struck out the first five batters faced, Bassitt yielded the lead to the Astros in the third. With one out, catcher Robinson Chirinos became the first Astros baserunner when he doubled to Mark Canha in right field. Shortstop Miles Straw then flied out to Ramon Laureano in center field for the second out, but George Springer followed with a home run off a 1-2 fastball from Bassitt. The inning ended with the Astros up 2-1.
Astros starter Justin Verlander settled in as the game went on, while the Astros’ offense seemingly took advantage of any mistakes Bassitt made and augmented their lead in the fifth inning. The A’s had no hits off Verlander from the second through fifth innings, getting just two runners on base via walks during that stretch. Bassitt hit Chirinos to open the sixth, and the Astros’ catcher was brought home a second time with another home run, this one from Altuve. The A’s finally notched a second hit in the sixth courtesy of Canha but were nevertheless shut down again. Laureano was caught looking to end the inning with 11 strikeouts for Verlander, the only silver lining being that all those Ks required 101 pitches from the Astros’ starter, who was relieved by big righty Will Harris to begin the seventh. Bassitt also exited after six innings; he pitched well, throwing seven strikeouts and no walks, but the Astros took every inch of opportunity they were given, plating four on five hits against the A’s starter to gain a three run advantage as the game went to the seventh.
The A’s narrowed the gap late in the game but fell short. Oakland used its once magical but now struggling “TnT” bullpen tandem in relief of Bassitt. Lou Trivino pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning, looking like the outrageously effective setup man he was in 2018. Blake Treinen pitched a shutout eighth, though he was somewhat less impressive, allowing a one-out double to Altuve, who went three-for-four and knocked in two to give the Astros half of their hits and RBIs in the game. The A’s started a rally in the top of the ninth against Astros closer Roberto Osuna with back-to-back singles from Laureano and designated hitter Khris Davis that put runners on the corners with just one out. Left fielder Robbie Grossman brought Laureano home on a fielder’s choice to cut the Astros’ lead to two, but Osuna struck out catcher Chris Herrmann to save a 13th victory for Verlander and a 2-1 series win for the Astros.
Today’s game was the last of a tough seven day, seven game road trip through Minneapolis and Houston in which the A’s held their own against two division leaders, finishing the excursion at 3-4. The A’s are now 7.5 games behind the AL West leading Astros and hold a one game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays for the second AL Wild Card spot. They head back to Oakland tonight ahead of a four game series at the Coliseum against a struggling Texas Rangers club.
Thoughts for the Flight Home
- Reaching out for arms. Marcus Stroman headlines Ben Ross’s list of five potential trade targets to bolster the A’s pitching depth. Alex Hall has some insights on the matter, too.
- Susan Slusser lauds Canha, heralds Puk in her latest piece in the SF Chronicle.
A's Mark Canha providing strong fill-in work; check out the team's record with Oakland's best-ever Rule-5 player in the starting lineup, plus an A.J. Puk update: https://t.co/MCWPYGDBGG— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) July 24, 2019
- Water is Wet, to paraphrase A.J. Hinch.