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Game #154: A’s thump Astros 14-2

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That felt good

MLB: Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics
Grand slam Pinder!
Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

The postseason might be out of reach for the Oakland A’s, but they still put on quite a show Friday night.

The A’s demolished the Houston Astros in a 14-2 rout, ending Oakland’s losing streak and taking the first step toward preventing Houston from celebrating an AL West division title at the Coliseum this weekend.

*** Click here to revisit tonight’s Game Thread! ***

So that’s where all the runs were hiding. The A’s had their Wild Card hopes dashed this week when they were swept by the Mariners, scoring only 10 times in four games. Tonight against the Astros, they eclipsed that total in just the 7th and 8th innings combined.

Houston took an early 2-0 lead with runs in the 1st and 3rd against starter Frankie Montas, then never found the plate again. Oakland responded with three in the bottom of the 3rd to take control, and the score remained 3-2 for a while. In the bottom of the 7th, the A’s exploded for six runs, capped by a pinch-hit grand slam from Chad Pinder, and just for good measure they rallied for five more in the bottom of the 8th including a bases-clearing double by Matt Olson.

The victory comes too late to save the postseason standings, but it sure does feel good to blast the division’s juggernaut on the way out the door. Even if it was basically a bullpen game for the Astros, as starter Zack Greinke was a late scratch. Don’t be a buzzkill. Oakland scored 14 runs against the Asterisks.

Close game

For the first six innings, this was a tight, low-scoring affair like we’d been watching all week.

Houston got on the board right away with an unearned run. The first play of the game was a routine throwing error by Matt Chapman that put Jose Altuve on third, and soon a sac fly scored him. Later, in the top of the 3rd, Altuve hit a solo homer.

But Montas settled down from there, at one point retiring 11 out of 12 batters. After Altuve’s homer, the Astros only hit the ball hard once against him the rest of the night (for a popout), as he powered through another seven-inning gem for the fifth time in his last seven starts.

  • Montas: 7 ip, 2 runs (1 earned), 8 Ks, 3 BB, 1 HR, 106 pitches, 86.1 mph EV

His final strikeout of the evening was his 200th of the season, making him just the fifth Oakland pitcher ever to reach that mark.

On the other side of the ball, the A’s lineup gave him some support after Houston’s early runs. In the bottom of the 3rd, a pair of walks set the table, and Starling Marte singled to bring one home.

Next up was Matt Olson, who delivered another RBI single. That tied the score.

With runners still on the corners, Mark Canha lofted a sac fly to give Oakland the lead. It was a tidy three runs on two hits, exactly the kind of efficient production we yearned to see more of this summer.

That was enough support for Montas, who stayed in control throughout.

The right-hander ran into one final spot of trouble in the top of the 7th, but saved himself with a defensive highlight. With runners on second and third and one out, and the infield playing in to protect the one-run lead, the batter hit a grounder straight up the middle. It traveled toward the mound but on the wrong side, behind Montas, so he dipped down, stuck his glove behind his back, and snagged it with a no-look grab. The runner held at third, the out was recorded at first, and then Montas retired the next batter to squash the rally.

There’s a chance the second baseman would have stopped that ball if it had gotten past Montas, but even then the run might have scored, or maybe it would have trickled all the way up the middle for two runs.

Heading to the bottom of the 7th, it was 3-2 A’s.

Blowout

According to the normal 2021 script, the offense should now go quiet, and either Oakland wins 3-2 or the bullpen blows it at the end. Tonight, something different happened.

The A’s added insurance, in a big way. In the bottom of the 7th they loaded the bases with one out, and Marte doubled to score a pair.

They re-loaded the bases, and Pinder came in to pinch-hit against a lefty reliever. He fell behind in the count, but got a hold of a slider at the bottom of the zone and sent it into orbit. Grand slam.

It was Pinder’s fifth career pinch-hit homer, tying the franchise record.

Suddenly it wasn’t a close game anymore.

Oakland wasn’t done. In the 8th they piled on more, and it began the same way with Tony Kemp and Yan Gomes reaching base to lead off. Another single loaded ‘em up, and Seth Brown drew a walk to force home a run. Marte singled home another, and then Olson blasted one to the wall for a three-run double.

Six runs in the 7th inning, and then five runs in the 8th inning. The best way to avoid blown saves is to just build a bigger lead, and after a season of not doing so often enough, the A’s really really really did it tonight. Pinder, Marte, and Olson each finished the game with 4 RBI apiece.

As an extra treat, in the top of the 9th, the Astros loaded the bases with one out but struck out twice to strand them.

Bittersweet

This game was everything we wanted to see all year. The starter was strong. The offense reached base 20 times including 14 hits, and they went 7-for-14 with runners in scoring position. The bullpen didn’t need to be a factor. And it all came in a thunderous win over a division rival.

If only we could have seen more of this in July and August, instead of late-September after it was too late. Heck, even earlier this week might have been enough.

But alas. It was a fun night anyway, and we can enjoy that for what it is.