Patience. Defense. Tremendous bullpen efforts. A couple timely hits — one that left that park. It’s been the same formula most of the season, and it worked again tonight.
It was a forgettable evening for both starting pitchers. Neither Edwin Jackson, nor Charlie Morton was able to escape the fifth inning. But the scoreline would indicate correctly that it wasn’t an offensive bonanza; in fact, both teams combined for just 11 hits.
The difference in tonight’s contest came down to free passes; three of the A’s four runs reached base as result of a walk or hit-by-pitch. The A’s earned seven free passes in total. Houston worked just two.
Despite a less-than-stellar line, Edwin Jackson started the game strongly. He did allow a second inning run, although it wouldn’t have been earned if passed balls were counted as errors (although without Lucroy’s passed ball, the run probably wouldn’t have scored.)
Jackson gave up a leadoff single to Carlos Correa, and Correa advanced to second on the passed ball. But Jackson then got each of the next three batters to ground out. The second such, Tyler White’s RBI, was a slowly hit chopper to Matt Chapman. You could see Chapman wanted to come home, however the ball was just hit too slowly and he had to settle for the out at first.
But Matt Olson’s light tower power quickly supplanted any thoughts of earned runs and passed balls. Charlie Morton retired the first two batters of the fourth inning, but then walked Jed Lowrie and hit Khris Davis with a pitch. I wouldn’t want to face Lowrie or Davis either, but instead of holding all the tickets, Morton was owning all the fines.
Following Olson’s dinger, Jackson pitched a solid fourth, but ran into trouble again until the fifth, where two of the first three batters singled. With runners at first and second, and one out, EJax struck out Martin Maldonado, bringing George Springer to the plate. Jackson’s pitch count was fine — low even — and he’d looked reasonably sharp, so it’s hard to fault Bob Melvin for leaving Jackson in to face Springer. But EJax issued a full-count walk, loading the bases for Alex Bregman. This was the at-bat where Bob Melvin perhaps should have lifted Jackson. Instead, he stuck with his journeyman starter. It didn’t work out. Bregman doubled scoring two, tying the game.
The offensive fireworks, on both sides, were quelled for a while thereafter. But despite not hitting, the A’s made a series of great defensive plays.
But even more important, if not as flashy, was Ramon Laureano’s eighth inning throw.
Chapman deserves credit for applying a great tag, as the ball was thrown to the wrong side of the bag, but not enough can be said about the quickness of Laureano’s glove to hand transition and the strength of his throw.
In the ninth, Laureano followed up his defensive masterclass with a walk. Jonathan Lucroy singled. And Nick Martini, who was 0-8 this series, came through when it matter most.
NEVER SHAKEN, NEVER STIRRED. MARTINI WITH THE GO-AHEAD GROUND-RULE DOUBLE pic.twitter.com/pUmtGpdXIo— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) August 29, 2018
It’s a shame the ball bounded over the outfield wall, although it’s quite possible that, when considering that the runner on first was Jonathan Lucroy, as well as the strength of Josh Reddick’s throwing arm, the result would have been the same.
Blake Treinen pitched a clean ninth to earn his 33rd save of the season, lowering his ERA 0.95 in the process. Sean Kelley, Fernando Rodney, Jeurys Famlia, and Treinen combined to pitch 4.1 innings of two hit, zero walk, zero run baseball. The front office deserves so much credit for assembling this group of shutdown relievers.
The A’s play even earlier tomorrow — 11:10 AM PDT. And while they can’t overtake the Astros for first place, as was possible before the series began, I think most A’s fans would have taken two of three if it was offered on Sunday night.