As fun as yesterday’s 21-run explosion was, tonight’s game was probably just a little bit better as Brett Anderson and the A’s survived everything the Astros had to throw at them and more, thanks to Marcus Semien continuing his MVP-type season, a huge hit by Khris Davis, a two-RBI double by Matt Olson, and a home run by Sean Murphy (his third in two days), backed by Brett Anderson and his best escape artist routine through five for his career-high twelfth win, Jesus Luzardo’s near-perfect three inning debut, Ramon Laureano showing off his cannon in right field this time, and Liam Hendriks’ gutsy ninth inning save. It was as good as it gets this time of year as the A’s knew this was the series they needed in order to keep pace with the Rays and Indians, who never lose. But we put up the win first tonight and the A’s look to take the series tomorrow.
Brett Anderson threw just five innings in this one, but you have to give him credit; he did better than the previous pitchers before him. He allowed seven hits and three walks; there were Astros all over the bases all night, but he managed just enough to hold them to two runs; really a mighty feat considering the team and the park. His four strikeouts were timely, but a double-play and a runner thrown out at the plate (Laureano, who else?) minimized the damage and allowed the A’s four-run sixth to take him from the loss to the win, as the bullpen held on.
The series started out on Monday night as badly as possible for the A’s, with a dead offense and no pitching, losing 15-0 without so much as one fighting inning. But if there is one trait that the 2019 Oakland A’s have in spades, it is resiliency. They have had some soul-crushing losses this season; defeats plucked from the jaws of victory, sure-wins blown late, brutal calls, and stunning fails. But they have never let one night define the next game, and no game showcased that more than Tuesday’s as the A’s put everything they had out there to crush the Astros to even the series.
And then, both teams, who had thoroughly embarrassed the other in back-to-back games, started tonight’s. Jose Urquidy owned the A’s for the first four innings; striking out 9 A’s batters in the first four innings; 10 through five. His only blemish was a solo home run by Marcus Semien, his 28th (!!) leading off the fourth, which at the time, tied the game; the Astros scoring in the third on a solo home run by George Springer.
The watershed moment of this game came in the bottom of the fourth inning as Anderson allowed the Astros’ second run on a one-out single and subsequent double. A walk and a single loaded the bases with one out, and Anderson was in deep, with the speedy Myles Straw at bat. No sooner than the announcers said, “He is not a double-play candidate...” than he hit into an inning-ending double-play gorgeously turned by Jurickson Profar and Marcus Semien.
The A’s were thwarted by Alex Bregman in the fifth, turning a double-play on a ball that might have otherwise been a double by Khris Davis, and it looked for all the world like things just weren’t breaking the A’s way tonight. And Anderson came back out for the fifth and with a runner on first, allowed what for all the world looked like a single/double down the right field line. Altuve, streaking from first to third, watched as Laureano bobbled the ball and decided to break for home. Heh. As you can imagine, it was an outfield assist rather than the Astros’ third run. It was very shades of Cespedes; luring your opponent into thinking you made a mistake before you use your arm to correct it immediately. Even the subsequent intentional walk with two outs didn’t hurt the A’s; Anderson was able to record the third and final out of the fifth, his last of the night.
And then came the top of the sixth inning. Jose James replaced Jose Urquidy and that turned out to be the best move ever for the A’s. Sean Murphy greeted him with a home run (his fourth) into the Crawford boxes to tie the game at two; his third home run in two games. Semien followed with a single (he’d go 3-5 on the night) and Chapman was smacked on the back to earn first base. A wild pitch moved both runners to second and third and Olson doubled them both in for the 4-2 A’s lead. The A’s tried their hand next against Joe Smith, as a soft groundout by Canha moved Olson to third with one out (and anyone other than Bregman or Chapman doesn’t make that play at third), and Seth Brown worked a terrific walk to bring up Khris Davis. Who smacked an RBI single to give the A’s the much-needed fifth run. Leading by three, the A’s put the wheels in motion to finish the game with the bullpen.
I imagine the conversation with Jesus Luzardo went something like this, “Super sorry to do this to you, but we have a three-run lead in Houston against the first-place Astros. Not ideal for your debut, but here we are. Oh, and we have to win because the teams we’re competing against for the Wild Card never lose. And, literally you’re our only hope. It’s either you, or [name your favorite sixth, seventh, eighth inning reliever here].”
This was what we’ve been waiting a season for. A major league debut protecting a lead by one of the most dynamic rookies in our arsenal. This is September baseball, and we’re here for it.
Jesus Luzardo threw three innings for the hold in his major league debut, striking out two, while allowing just a single hit; an ill-advised 3-1 fastball down the middle, and while that pitch traditionally has worked for him at all levels, it was deposited in the seats tonight to close the gap to 5-3 Oakland. He didn’t make that—or any—mistake again in his next two innings, finally surrendering the ball to closer Liam Hendriks. It was as good of a debut as we could have wanted, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
The game was shut down by our All-Star closer, recording two strikeouts and dodging some full counts, but when was all said and done, THE A’S WIN THE GAME, guarantee no less than a split of the four-game series on the road, and this just in, while the Angels couldn’t complete the comeback against the Indians, the Rangers helped us out by beating the Rays. The A’s are a half game behind the Rays for the first Wild Card and a half game ahead of Cleveland for the second, in a race that couldn’t be closer.
The A’s finish out in Houston tomorrow at 5:10 before taking on the Rangers, Royals, Rangers, Angels and Mariners to close the season. Meanwhile, the Indians play the Twins, Tigers, Phillies, White Sox and Nationals and the Rays play the Angels, Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees and the Blue Jays. With the A’s notching their 86th win tonight (Rays 87, Indians 86) it’s not that out there to consider that one of the three will win 95 games and not go to the playoffs. All the A’s can do is make sure they beat one of them.
Let’s go for the series win tomorrow, Homer Bailey vs. Justin Verlander. If the magic of the season continues, the A’s would find a way to beat Verlander. No time like the present; LET’S GO OAK-LAND!