It was the same as yesterday, and the week before that, and the fortnight before that.
The Oakland A’s did just enough to lose against the Houston Astros, this time by a 4-3 margin at Minute Main Park. The A’s put together some rallies but couldn’t score, they pitched great but still allowed a crooked number, and the Astros played terrible defense except for the one play they needed to make at the perfect moment by the player you both most and least expected. So, a typical Wednesday lately.
There are a dozen ways Oakland could have won this game, and all they needed was just one more thing to go right. They didn’t get dominated, with all the ingredients required for a victory, but every time they had the chance to take control they just passed it up. You could even change nothing about what happened except the sequencing and turn this into a better result.
On the mound, Sean Manaea was fantastic, and Houston couldn’t do anything against him for most of the evening. But Platinum Glove third baseman Matt Chapman had the night off with a stomach flu, and in the 3rd inning his replacement Chad Pinder made an error to give the Astros their first runner of the night. Then a softly hit single, and then a three-run homer.
That’s all Houston did against Manaea in six innings, and it all came perfectly bunched together to inflict maximum damage. In the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 6th, he set them down in order 1-2-3, with only a couple outs even being remotely loud. Scatter the runners in another frame and make this a solo homer, and the A’s win.
With the game tied in the 7th, Oakland tried to coax an extra inning out of Manaea but paid the price. He was beginning to allow hard contact, and one of them slipped over the fence for a solo homer. That turned out to be the difference in the game. The bullpen faced the minimum for the rest of the night.
- Manaea: 6⅔ ip, 4 runs (3 earned), 6 Ks, 0 BB, 2 HR, 92 pitches, 86.8 mp EV
The southpaw was far better than a four-run outing would indicate, but that’s how things are going right now. On the bright side, reliever Sergio Romo now has a 1.15 ERA in 17 appearances dating back to late May, with 16 strikeouts per walk.
Can’t buy a run
The A’s also hit two homers! But nobody was on base for either of them, so they only totaled two runs instead of four. At one point they went walk, groundout, double, strikeout, homer, walk, single, single, but the strikeout was the third out of an inning and the whole string resulted in one RBI. That’s six successful at-bats out of eight, including two extra-base hits, and still no big inning.
They scored first, right away in the 1st inning thanks to a Matt Olson dinger.
Trailing 3-1 in the 5th, they got a walk and a double, and with two outs Tony Kemp had a full count and a wide-open hole to aim for on the left side of the infield, but he struck out looking. Then Elvis Andrus led off the next inning with a solo homer.
Elvis stays hot with a solo shot to left pic.twitter.com/3KlGRGXSHl— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) July 8, 2021
After Andrus’ dinger, the next two batters reached base. Then Jed Lowrie hit a single with a runner in scoring position, but he hit it too hard so the runner had to hold up at third. Bases loaded, nobody out, and then things got weird.
Houston gave the A’s a gift, with a wild pitch to score the runner from third and tie the game. What’s more, that runner was a slower one in Olson, while the runner now moving up to third was the swifter Ramon Laureano. That came in handy right away when Sean Murphy lofted a fly to shallow left. This would be the go-ahead run.
But nope. Laureano was thrown out at home plate by Michael Brantley. That’s the opposite of how it’s supposed to work, as Laureano is the one who throws people out. And Brantley? He’s always been a good defender, but we’re more accustomed to seeing him beat Oakland with his bat. You fully expect him to be the hero, but not like this.
Seems like the A's get thrown out at the plate once a game ♂️ pic.twitter.com/gAEm66YTFP— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) July 8, 2021
Just moments after the Astros defense had giveneth, they takethed away. Maybe the catcher blocked the plate too much, maybe not, maybe Laureano could have slid more around him instead of directly into a brick wall. Whatever the case, the scoreboard remain tied.
In the 7th, Houston tried even harder to hand the game to Oakland. Jose Altuve flubbed a grounder to lead off the inning, and then a walk put a second runner on with nobody out. Kemp tried to sac bunt and blew it, delivering an easy double play ball, but Altuve messed up again by dropping a throw. Kemp was safe at first, and soon moved up to second on a wild pitch, so it turned out as if his bunt had worked.
With runners on second and third and one out, the A’s hit a flyball but not deep enough, and a popout to squander it all.
Just one more hit in the 5th, or the 6th, or the 7th, and Oakland probably wins. Heck, just move two of their flyouts a few feet deeper for successful sac flies. Or put one runner in front of a homer. Anything at all beyond what they got. It could have been enough to win! But instead it was exactly enough to lose by a whisker.
In one final cruel twist, the universe added injury to insult at the end of another frustrating loss. On the last play of the game, Pinder grounded out and pulled a hammy running down the line to first base. He will miss some time, reports Shayna Rubin of the Mercury News.
This is the confluence of terrible luck and also not quite playing well enough. On any given day these last few nightmarish weeks, the A’s could have made a couple more plays to put the game away. They could have played better. But in many of these recent losses they are doing enough to win, and just not seeing it all come together on the scoreboard. Somebody has to win the close games, and earlier this season it was Oakland. Right now it’s not.
We know what they need. An imminent return from Mark Canha will help the lineup. One more hitter stepping up and getting hot beyond that would be nice, whether incumbent or a new face. A trade or two to bolster the bullpen. None of that has changed. But every day that goes by, and every new loss to the division-leading Astros or otherwise, makes those shortcomings ever more glaring and urgent.