Sean Manaea had quite possibly the shakiest 1ER performance in the history of pitching, but he somehow endured 52⁄3 innings against a deep Astros lineup. Meanwhile, Ryon Healy hit his first career grand slam to take this game despite the machinations of Liam Hendriks and Santiago Casilla.
Sean Manaea yielded 9 hits and 3 walks while striking out only 3, yet he somehow managed to wriggle his way in and out of trouble for nearly 6 innings. He did not have a single 1-2-3 inning and gave up a leadoff hit in most innings...and yet somehow the Astros managed only the 1 run.
Part of that is thanks to bad baserunning - in each of the first two innings, the ‘stros held a runner at third base who ultimately did not score. One of those instances was laziness on the part of Marwin Gonzalez (failing to run out a hit even Billy Butler could have scored on), while the other was a highly questionable call by the third base coach. Either way, it gave Manaea the help he needed.
Time and again, Manaea came through and got outs when the situation felt hopeless. He gave up a couple more hits but escaped in the 3rd, then got into some serious hot water in the 5th after loading the bases with 0 outs. Manaea dug down and yet again got the outs he needed - first a (RBI) double play by Evan Gattis (on a ball well out of the strike zone on a 3-0 count), then a groundout from Evan Gattis doppelgänger Brian McCann to end the inning. That Manaea gave up only 1 run in a bases loaded, 0 outs situation against this Astros squad - and moreover, against Evan Gattis - is nothing short of a miracle.
Yet more trouble in the 6th. Manaea got two outs, then gave up singles to Bregman and Marisnick before being yanked in favor of Ryan Madson. Madson eventually struck out Springer after a long at-bat. Two more stranded for the 'stros.
Despite the 1 earned run, and despite this being a very good Astros lineup, I found Manaea’s performance tonight worrying for two reasons. One, his issue wasn’t that the Astros were beating him by being amazing hitters, but primarily because he just wasn’t pitching very well. He was hanging hittable pitches and throwing lots and lots of balls. Two, and perhaps more worrying to me, was his velocity. We never really got a taste of mid-90s Manaea, but his velocity was poor today even by his recent standards. His fastball was sitting 90-91 and hitting 92 at most according to GameDay. Maybe someone who knows more about pitching mechanics than me can explain why his velocity is so low, especially when it’s been said that the radar guns around MLB are running hotter than ever this year?
A’s with the Bat
Oakland’s first run came in the 2nd inning. Khris Davis was hit by a pitch in the arm. Alonso struck out, but Khris just managed to steal second at the same time. Then some more heads-up baserunning by Davis, as he advanced to third after Fiers spiked a ball well in front of home plate. Ultimately Bruce Maxwell came through (one of three hits for the young catcher tonight), grounding a ball right up the middle and into the outfield to drive in Khris and put the A’s on the board first, 1-0. Barreto hit a pitch at eye-level deep into the outfield and for a moment it looked like he was Gattis’ing (I will never forget that godawful hit), but it fell on the opposite field warning track to end the inning.
In the 6th, Joyce and Jed singled to put runners on the corners with one out. AJ Hinch opted to let Mike Fiers stay on the mound even though he was at about 100 pitches. Khris Davis hit an unfortunate pop-out on a very hittable pitch, but Yonder Alonso walked to load the bases with two outs. This time Hinch went to the Astros bullpen, selecting righty James Hoyt to face Ryon Healy. At first it looked like the right call - Healy was swinging at some questionable pitches, spoiling a couple of potential ball fours. But somehow, inexplicably, catcher Brian McCann called for a hittable fastball instead of a surefire slider in the dirt, and Healy absolutely launched it, far enough that even George Springer couldn’t make a play. Healy tallied his first career grand slam and put the A’s on top 5-1.
The A’s managed one more run in the 8th. Reymin Guduan, a lefty, came in to pitch for Houston. Jed Lowrie hit a single to left field that Marwin Gonzalez made an incredibly ill-advised dive on, leaving Lowrie with a double. Khris Davis followed up with a double of his own, this time a legitimately well-hit ball over Gonzalez’s head. 6-1 A’s. An Alonso lineout advanced Davis to third, but he was subsequently gunned down at home, running on contact as Healy hit a weak groundball. Maxwell got yet another hit to keep the inning alive and put runners on the corners, then Franklin Barreto took his first major league walk to load the bases. Bob Melvin made the unbelievable decision to pull Jaycob Brugman, who had three hard-hit balls (one single and two robbed doubles) on the night, in favor of Rajai Davis and his .270 OBP. Rajai grounded out on the second pitch and left the bases loaded.
This proved to be critical as we witnessed...
Not the whole bullpen. Ryan Madson faced four batters and got four outs, and Sean Doolittle looked absolutely dominant in the 8th, getting three groundball outs on only 8 pitches.
Bob Melvin opted for yet another highly questionable swap, removing Doolittle after that dominant 8th (yet again...that happened just this weekend) in favor of weaker pitchers for the 9th. But the A’s are up 6-1. Game over, right? Not when Liam Hendriks and Santiago Casilla are available. Hendriks gave up two singles and a home run to make it 6-4 A’s and put the Astros within striking distance. Seeing the danger, Melvin turned to surefire stopper Santiago Casilla, who (nobody could have seen this coming!) gave up back-to-back singles, bringing pinch hitter Josh Reddick to the plate as the winning run, still with 0 outs. We all know where this is going, right? Somehow the A’s averted disaster yet again, inducing a pop-up from Reddick and a game-ending double play by the trundling Brian McCann to escape the game with a 6-4 win.
The 9th inning was agonizing and scary, but the A’s made it work for...gosh, is that only our second win against Houston this year?
P.S. A Quick Note on Franklin Barreto
The range is great but I’m very iffy on the arm. He gave up an infield single to Altuve at one point that I think a shortstop with a great arm could have made, and although that is the only time I think his arm actually cost us, there were a couple plays that were closer than they needed to be and I generally wasn’t super impressed by Barreto’s arm tonight.