Do you think the Houston Astros regret trading Ramon Laureano to the Oakland A’s yet?
The A’s and Astros opened a three-game series at the Coliseum on Tuesday, and as usual the division rivalry matchup didn’t disappoint. In a contest that was tight and full of suspense from wire to wire, Oakland came out on top for a 6-5 victory, led by Laureano with two homers and a walk-off sacrifice fly.
The Astros were in the driver’s seat for most of the night, taking an early lead and holding it for all but a few minutes. But the A’s never let the margin get too big, and they came back to tie it in the 6th and again in the 8th.
Oakland starter Sean Manaea wasn’t quite at his best, but he did everything he could to keep his club in the game. His velocity was down for his second straight outing, topping out at just 92 mph instead of the rejuvenated 94 he’s shown most of this year, and the Astros banged out 10 hits against him including their share of hard contact. However, the lefty helped himself by issuing no walks, and he was able to navigate through most of his traffic to minimize the damage.
The one Houston rally that succeeded against Manaea came right away in the 1st inning, with a single and a pair of doubles to plate two runs. Coming off a disaster start against the Red Sox in his last appearance, it was fair to wonder if this game might turn sour quickly too, but the southpaw gutted his way through and somehow was still standing at the end of six frames. The only other run against him was a solo homer.
- Manaea: 6 ip, 3 ip, 3 Ks, 0 BB, 1 HR, 10 hits, 91 pitches, 88.2 mph EV
That’s a quality start, even without his best stuff.
Meanwhile, the A’s lineup kept pace by simply banging out their own series of solo homers. First was Laureano, in the bottom of the 1st, to get back a run right after the Astros had taken an early lead. Note that the wind was blowing in from left field, and he still cut through it.
Ladies and gentlemen, Ramón Laureano. pic.twitter.com/X1BC5T9VYm— Oakland A's (@Athletics) May 19, 2021
Laureano’s next time up, he did it again, hitting another rocket that looked nearly identical to the first. This one came in the bottom of the 4th, again immediately after Houston had scored on their own dinger. Each time the Astros got something off Manaea, Laureano took it right back.
By the bottom of the 6th the A’s were still one run short, so Matt Olson took care of that. Both he and Laureano now have 10 homers this season, sharing the team lead and ranking in the Top 20 or so in the majors.
The game was tied, Manaea was off the hook, and we now had a three-inning bullpen contest.
The Astros struck first against the bullpen, just as they had against the starting pitcher. Burch Smith worked the 7th and really only allowed one hard-hit double, but thanks to a soft single, a wild pitch, and a sac fly, two runs went up on the board.
But just as they had each other time Houston scored tonight, the A’s charged right back. A single and two walks loaded the bases in the bottom of the 7th, and Mark Canha lofted a sac fly just deep enough for Jed Lowrie to chug home and cut the deficit in half.
In the 8th, Laureano was in the middle of the action again. He led off with a walk, and Matt Chapman drilled a double into the gap, allowing Laser to streak all the way around from first base to score the tying run.
Oakland’s bullpen held up the rest of the way, with Sergio Romo and Yusmeiro Petit facing the minimum in the 8th and 9th innings.
Finally, with the score knotted 5-5 in the bottom of the 9th, a walk and a single put runners on the corners for Oakland. Laureano then came through with exactly what the team needed — a simple fly ball. It was easily deep enough to score Canha from third base.
Laureano walks it off against the Astros pic.twitter.com/lyDlSjUWSc— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) May 19, 2021
The walk-off victory was the A’s fifth of the season, the most in the majors so far. It’s Laureano’s second of the year, after his ground ball against the Twins was thrown away for an error (still counts!).
But perhaps the best part of the late innings was the shift in how Oakland scored. For most of the evening they couldn’t string together any kind of rally or cash in on any baserunners, relying purely on dingers like they have the last couple summers. But toward the end they clutched up, with two of their final three runs crossing the plate thanks to sac flies and the other coming by driving in a runner with a double. That’s the difference between winning tonight, and looking for bright sides in a disappointing close loss.
As for Ramon, his MVP-level impact continues.
Not to be missed amid this excellent performance by the A’s was their work on defense. Laureano got it started in the 1st inning, playing a carom off the wall so brilliantly that he prevented the lead runner from scoring. A subsequent hit brought home the run anyway, but that doesn’t change how good Laureano’s effort was.
In the 4th inning, another former Astro chipped in, as second baseman Tony Kemp went all-out to snare a liner.
Manaea marveled at the play behind him, per Matt Kawahara of the S.F. Chronicle:
“It kind of looked like he, like, dolphin-dove and got it and then his legs went up higher – it looked like he jumped five or six feet in the air, like a high jumper or something but the opposite. I don’t know, it was crazy.”
In the 8th it was Romo’s turn. His leadoff batter reached base on a lucky weak grounder, and the next batter hit another dribbler. This time it went right at Romo, who dropped to his knee to field the ball, spun without even standing up, and made a perfect off-balance flip to second base to start a double play. See the still-frame below, then yadda yadda yadda, it turned out well.
That was one of two double plays turned by the A’s, and both of them involved shortstop Chad Pinder, who also came about a foot short of homering to the opposite field in one of his at-bats. Those are encouraging signs on both sides of the ball for a breakout candidate who only returned from the injured list a few days ago — the ability to stash his bat at SS, where they’re currently getting little to no production, could have a significant positive effect on the lineup.
Anybody still worried that the 2021 A’s can’t compete with the Astros because of a sweep in the first week of April? Oakland has now won each of the last three meetings between them, including the one that felt most like playoff baseball in tonight’s dramatic showdown. Nothing will be truly settled for another four months, but the green-and-gold is here to contend.