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Game #9: A’s lineup finally breaks out in win over Astros

Oakland doubles its homer total, in 9th game of season

Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s scored only 19 runs in their first eight games of the season, but they weren’t swinging as badly as that output made it seem. They proved it on Friday.

The A’s hammered the ball from start to finish and doubled their homer total for the entire season, en route to a 6-2 victory over the Houston Astros that wasn’t anywhere near as close as the final appears.

*** Game Thread #1 | Game Thread #2 ***

Oakland collected the seven hardest-hit balls of the game, all of them well over 100 mph in exit velocity, and that list only included one of their three homers. In total they made 15 pieces of hard contact (95+ mph), twice as much as their opponent mustered, though some bad luck and nice Houston defense meant most of it resulted in loud outs.

Meanwhile, the Astros had eight hits of their own, but five of them were weak bloops or dribblers under 80 mph exit velo, including one that literally came on a checked swing. Only one of Houston’s hits qualified as hard contact. With even normal BABIP luck, the A’s probably win this game 12-1.

In the 4th inning, Jed Lowrie finally hit one so hard that nothing could get in its way.

That was Lowrie’s first homer since 2018, and at that exact moment every Mets fan threw up in their mouths just a little, like Obi-Wan Kenobi sensing something bad has happened.

The A’s loaded the bases after that, and Elvis Andrus hit a rocket at 107.3 mph EV, but it went straight at a glove for an out and they got nothing more in the inning. Houston answered back with a rally of a walk, a weak single, and a grounder that would have been a double play if not for a heavy defensive shift. It seemed like it might be that kind of day, again, with everything going uncannily wrong for the green-and-gold.

That tweet is from the 5th inning, and the 1-1 tie continued until the 8th, though at least Houston wasn’t lucking into any more runs either.

In the 8th Oakland smashed a couple singles off the Astros bullpen, putting on a pair of runners for Matt Olson. The first baseman fouled off a couple fastballs, but he didn’t miss the 1-2 slider from lefty reliever Blake Taylor.

Finally, the big hit we’d all been waiting nine games for. That one felt even better than it looked, and it looked spectacular.

The A’s weren’t done. After being robbed by 1B Yuli Gurriel twice, Andrus tried the other direction in the 9th inning and nearly got robbed by SS Carlos Correa, but this time his liner squeaked past for a single. Mark Canha, who had already come so close to a dinger once, didn’t miss again.

The A’s third long ball of the day matched their season total through the first eight games, but it was just a matter of time before the drought corrected itself considering all the sharp contact they’ve been making. Still, it’s a relief to see it move from theoretical to real life.

Six runs on seven hits and four walks, including a trio of dingers. Best game of the year so far for Oakland’s lineup, and more in line with what we expected from them.

First quality start!

In addition to setting a season-high in scoring at the plate, the A’s also put up their best pitching performance of the year, with a season-low in runs allowed.

That began with Sean Manaea, who posted the team’s first quality start of 2021. The lefty was in full control for six innings, navigating around an occasional baserunner but never letting them build a rally. His only run came on the unfortunate sequencing mentioned earlier, which was more the fault of the defensive shift than the pitcher.

Manaea: 6 ip, 1 run, 4 Ks, 1 BB, 6 hits, 97 pitches, 89.7 mph exit velo

Astros stars Michael Brantley and Yordan Alvarez, who have wrecked Oakland so far this year, combined to go 0-for-9 with one hard-hit ball, and Manaea got six of those outs. Alvarez struck out all four times he came up overall.

The bullpen was just as good. Yusmeiro Petit and Lou Trivino tossed scoreless innings in setup duty, and Jake Diekman wrapped up the 9th, though he gave up a harmless run along the way. Trivino in particular has now struck out one-third of the batters he’s faced this year, and remember he’s only faced Astros and Dodgers hitters.

HOU/LAD vs. Trivino: 1-for-21, 3 BB, 8 Ks

There was no save to be issued, since Diekman was handed a five-run cushion, but when you enter with a 1-7 record every lead feels like a save situation. Petit did pitch when it was still tied, and Trivino got a hold for his work in what was then a three-run contest.

Build on it!

Of course, one good game in their sixth try against a tough divisional opponent is only the first step toward getting back on the right track after a nightmare start. But it certainly is progress, from the lineup to the rotation to the pen, and they looked more like the contender we’ve been watching the last three seasons and that we expect them to be again this summer.

The A’s now have a chance for something that seemed so distant a few days ago — a series win, in the rubber match on Saturday.