Lately the Oakland A’s have been doing just enough to lose games. On Thursday they finally did just enough to win one.
The A’s scored two runs in the 1st inning and held onto that lead for the rest of the afternoon in a 2-1 victory over the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. The win in the series finale avoids a sweep at the hands of the AL West division rivals.
Oakland’s offense struck right away in the opening frame, just as they had in the first two games of this series against the Astros. Elvis Andrus doubled, and Matt Olson followed with a shallow fly to no-man’s land in left field that barely landed fair for a lucky double and an RBI. Three batters in, they had their first run, and then Jed Lowrie singled to drive home Olson.
The A’s had an early 2-0 lead, but they never scored again. They put runners on second and third in the 2nd inning, but Andrus flew out to the warning track. They put two on in the 4th but couldn’t push them home. And then they just scattered a few singles the rest of the way. After going 2-for-2 with runners in scoring position in the 1st, they went 0-for-3 the rest of the way, which is more notable for the mere three opportunities than the zero hits.
Fortunately, mercifully, two runs turned out to be enough today, against the most productive lineup in the majors. Oakland starter Frankie Montas was brilliant, and the bullpen sealed the save without much drama.
The Astros couldn’t touch Montas at all for most of the afternoon. Their first four batters struck out, and six of their first eight. By the end of the 4th inning, he’d faced 15 batters and retired 12 of them, nine by way of strikeout. They finally got to him in the 7th, with back-to-back doubles to drive home a run, but overall they only hit the ball particularly well four times.
- Montas: 6⅔ ip, 1 run, 10 Ks, 1 BB, 5 hits, 95 pitches, 85.5 mph EV
That’s arguably the right-hander’s best start of the season, and it came at the perfect moment against the toughest opponent there is, and on the road. It’s the third time in as many tries that Montas has been good against Houston this year, and the second time he’s beaten them.
He did get a bit of help from his catcher, as Aramis Garcia threw out a base stealer.
But Montas didn’t go the full nine, which meant the bullpen would need to lock down the final outs. Yusmeiro Petit got one to end the 7th and strand Montas’ last runner, and then Lou Trivino in the 8th and Jake Diekman in the 9th each tiptoed around leadoff baserunners to get through their innings unscathed. Diekman’s frame went quickly, with the first pitch going for a single, and the second pitch being tapped for a double play. Five pitches later, a soft lineout ended it.
Tony Kemp caps off the win in style pic.twitter.com/YvbSN4PY1c— The Rickey Henderson of Blogs (@RickeyBlog) July 8, 2021
Nervous A’s fans waited for that lineout to somehow be overturned into a homer to tie the score, but nope, the game was officially over and Oakland had won.
We all needed that one. The team needed it in the standings, and the fans needed it amid what has now turned into three weeks of tough losses. Before today they’d dropped five of six, and eight of 11, and 12 of 17. At least they escaped Houston with one win.
But did they really play any differently than we’ve seen lately? They did several things well just like they’ve been doing all along, like Montas’ start, and the 1st-inning rally, and some sharp defense, and clean bullpen work. And they also weren’t perfect, with eight scoreless innings at the plate, and failing to capitalize on some atrocious Astros defense. But this time it added up to enough, where similar formulas haven’t so many times recently.
The A’s didn’t do any individual thing today that they haven’t been doing lately. But instead of failing to find the one extra thing they needed to right, they were able to avoid the one extra thing going wrong that could have sunk them, like serving up a bloop-and-a-blast that could have turned this into a loss, or a leadoff walk later scoring on an error and forcing extra innings, or whatever.
It used to go well like this more often in May and June, and it can again. You’d also like to play even better and win some blowouts, and this victory doesn’t suddenly change any of the critical needs on Oakland’s roster, but someone has to come out on top in the close games too and today was a reminder of what it looks like when it’s you. Same as the previous losses, but with as little as one more play going in your favor.
The A’s are now 11 games over the .500 mark, and are guaranteed to come out of the All-Star break in no worse than the second Wild Card position.