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Game #51: Valdez shuts down A’s in 5-1 loss

At least they weren’t shutout!

MLB: Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The A’s dropped the first game of the series against the Astros, falling 5-1 on a sunny Memorial Day in Oakland.

The bats were quiet for most of the game, and it looked like they might get no-hit at one point, but the offense broke that up in the sixth with a double, and an RBI single prevented a shutout. And that was about it.

The starting pitching was solid, but on a day Astros starter Framber Valdez pitched a complete one-run game, there was no room for error.

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

Both teams starting pitchers were on their A-game early today, as both Paul Blackburn and Astros lefty Framber Valdez traded zeros for the first three innings. The first hit of the day came from Houston speedster Jose Siri, a triple down the left field line to lead off the third. Blackburn locked in and kept him from coming home, striking out the next two batters before an impressive catch by third baseman Kevin Smith in foul territory by the A’s dugout ended the threat.

Things went downhill for Oakland after that. Houston finally broke through against Blackburn in the next inning, as a hanging changeup to Yordan Alvarez was absolutely demolished into right field and put the Astros on the board. The right fielder didn’t even move, as that bomb was the second-longest homer in all of baseball this year. That was only the second hit in the game up to this point.

A 1-out HBP and steal put an Astro in scoring position in the fifth and an RBI single by Houston’s worst hitter doubled their lead. The next batter, Jose Altuve, then took a pitch the other way and just snuck a home run over the tall part of the right field wall to again double the lead. Suddenly, the A’s were down 4-0 in the fifth.

After being baffled by Valdez for the entirety of the game, the A’s finally got a hit, a leadoff double by Smith to break up the no-hitter. Of course, on a day where not much was going right for Oakland, he had to leave the game after pulling up to second base.

The good news is it’s just a knee contusion and doesn’t appear to be serious, according to Kotsay after the game. With Smith out of the game, Seth Brown replaced him and went to left field while Chad Pinder moved to the infield and took over at third. A groundout then brought a heating-up Ramon Laureano up to the plate:

With Valdez dominating, any damage against him was sorely needed. Unfortunately those two back-to-back hits were the only ones the A’s could get against him all day. They also drew a trio of walks.

The righty really got bit on just a couple pitches, the two home runs he allowed. Entering today, Blackburn had only yielded one home run all year, so the pair of bombs off him in this one came as a surprise. Once again, though, Blackburn was allowed to face the Astros lineup a third time and pitched into the seventh, something he hadn’t been allowed earlier this year. He’s earned Mark Kotsay’s trust in that regard.

  • Paul Blackburn: 6 23 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 0 BB, 5 K, 91 pitches

On his last batter of the day, a grounder to Pinder at third should have been the final out of the inning and allow Blackburn to finish seven complete innings, but a bad throw caused a nasty collision at first:

Luckily both players stayed in the game, so the A’s avoided the injury bug on this play.

That brought in A.J. Puk to finish the inning, and he went back out for the next inning, too. The rare lefty got a hit against Puk, with Alvarez hitting his second home run of the day.

A couple Oakland relievers made their A’s debuts in the later innings. Righty Parker Markel relieved Puk and faced four batters, walking two but also striking out a pair to finish the eighth. Fellow right-hander Domingo Tapia, who was actually making his MLB debut, had the ninth, getting three fly balls in a perfect inning for the newbie.

The A’s went down 1-2-3 in the eighth and ninth innings as Valdez went the distance in this one. They made him work for it as he threw 114 pitches, but he only allowed a pair of hits in the sixth and a few meaningless walks that Oakland couldn’t do anything with.

This definitely is among the low points for the offense this year, even with a relatively low seven K’s today. The complete lack of hits were the main culprit behind this loss. At least they weren’t shut out, or worse, no hit. Blackburn had a solid start to this game but Houston got to him on his second time through. They’re one of the best lineups in the league and they showed why today.

So the A’s lose the series opener against the Astros. This month has not been kind on Oakland, as they‘ve gone 9-20 in May with one more to go. An extra win would look a lot better.

On the plus side, the A’s have Frankie Montas lined up for the start tomorrow evening, so they have as good a chance at a bounce back win as ever. He’ll be opposed by Cristian Javier, another Astros pitcher having a great season. See you all then!