Baseball sure is something. In a series where the combined score after three games was 26-25, the final contest came down to just two swings – a Seth Brown flare and a Matt Olson jack. The two plays gave the A’s three runs, which is all they would need to back a stellar pitching effort. Oakland prevailed 3-2, taking the series in Houston and picking up a huge win in the AL Wild Card Race.
Marcus Semien roped a single to start off the game and later advanced on a Mark Canha walk. With two on and two out, rookie Seth Brown blooped one down the left field line that found grass and allowed Semien to come home and score. Verlander was able to strike out Khris Davis to avoid any more damage, but the high-stress first frame was not ideal for Houston’s ace and contributed to his earlier-than-usual departure five innings later.
Oly Does It Again
Matt Olson, who homered twice on Tuesday and hit a big two-run double on Wednesday, left his mark on Thursday night’s game as well. In the 3rd inning, he got a fastball low and inside from Verlander and turned on it, lifting it way into the air and deep for a two-run homer; his 32nd homer of the season gave Oakland a 3-0 lead .
The big story of this game was Oakland’s staff maneuvering out of sticky situations. While A’s pitching allowed only two runs, the game was anything but comfortable for the men on the mound. Houston got multiple runners on base in four different innings, threatening to erase Oakland’s lead several times.
Homer Bailey, who started the game for the A’s had a particularly impressive escape in the bottom of the 3rd. After a Robinson Chirinos single and a Josh Reddick double to lead off the inning, Bailey was able to retire George Springer, Jose Altuve, and Michael Brantley in order, allowing just one run.
Bailey finished with a solid line, allowing one run in 5 1/3 innings. He was followed by Jake Diekman, who inherited two runners in the 6th but was able to get out of the jam by catching Jose Altuve attempting to steal third, then striking out Yordan Alvarez.
The next moment of stress for Oakland came in the bottom of the 8th. The usually reliable Yusmeiro Petit gave up a mammoth home run to Altuve which cut the lead in half. After walking Alex Bregman, he was replaced by A.J. Puk, who gave up a single to the only batter he faced.
Puk was replaced by Blake Treinen, who gave out a free pass (seven total walks allowed by Oakland on the evening) to load the bases, then came up with a huge strikeout of Kyle Tucker to keep the score at 3-2.
Lights Out Liam
If A’s fans thought they could breathe easy once Liam Hendriks came into the game, they thought wrong. Hendriks, who has been darn near unsolvable this year, ran into some trouble immediately, walking the leadoff batter Chirinos. The speedy Myles Straw pinch-ran for Chirinos, but was unable to advance to third on the subsequent single by Yuli Gurriel.
This turned out to be significant, because after a Springer strikeout, Altuve hit a fly ball medium deep to right field. Ramon Laureano made the grab and had no shot at Straw, who easily took third base; Straw would have almost certainly scored if he had been on third base.
It all came down to the reliable Michael Brantley for Houston. With two outs and runners on the corners, Brantley fell down in the count 0-2. Brantley, who is one of the hardest hitters in baseball to strike out, fouled one back to stay alive. Hendriks then threw a dart that came in perfectly at the knees, freezing Brantley for strike three. The umpire took the time to wring him up, but Brantley was already heading back to the dugout anyway.
Those who have been watching the schedule knew that the big tests for the A’s in the latter part of the season were eight games against Houston and six games against the New York Yankees. The A’s passed both tests with flying colors, winning a combined 9/14 games against the two best teams in the American League. These wins not only put the A’s in a great position to compete for a Wild Card spot, but also proved that they have the potential to make a run if they get there.