OAKLAND — The first pitch that Paul Blackburn threw Wednesday night was a strike — and that was really it, in terms of the highlights of his game. Everything spiraled out of control from there.
“I just didn’t execute my pitches,” Blackburn said. “Warming up was fine. Once the game got going, it sped up on me a little bit, and that was enough. That’s a good team over there. As soon as it starts getting up, they’re going to do damage, and they did.”
After Blackburn threw a gem last week in his first outing back off the disabled list, he lasted just an inning and a third against the Astros in Wednesday’s 13-5 loss, giving up eight runs — all earned — on eight hits. It was the A’s seventh loss in eight games against the reigning World Series champions, and their 23rd to an American League West opponent.
“They had him on the run early, and typically with a starting pitcher, that’s when he’s most vulnerable,” manager Bob Melvin said. “And I had to go get him early.”
After that first-pitch strike to George Springer, Blackburn began falling behind in the count — failing to throw first-pitch strikes to eight of the 14 men he faced.
In the first, he gave up, in succession, an excuse-me single, an infield base hit and a cautious walk. Then, Yuli Gurriel singled to center to give the Astros a 2-0 lead. Josh Reddick, the next batter, hit the best ball of the inning and lined out, but Evan Gattis hit a sac fly to push the lead to 3-0.
When Blackburn came back out for the second inning, things weren’t any better. He gave up a leadoff double to Jake Marisnick, who moved to third on a groundout. Then, Blackburn walked Jose Altuve, and Carlos Correa tripled. 5-0, Houston. Gurriel singled again. 6-0.
After Blackburn gave up a single to Reddick, Melvin made the call to the bullpen. Blackburn threw 47 pitches in just one and a third innings, after throwing 67 in six during his return from a right forearm strain.
Taking Blackburn out didn’t limit the damage. His replacement, reliever Emilio Pagan, gave up a three-run homer to Gattis on just his third pitch. Gattis — who hit another solo shot in the seventh — has now had back-to-back five-RBI days against the A’s.
“He’s locked in right now,” Melvin said of Gattis. “We’ve just made too many mistakes against him. … Granted, he’s a good hitter, he’s been around a while for a reason. So we just made too many mistakes in the middle of the plate for him to pull.”
The next batter Pagan faced was Marwin González, who hit a solo shot.
The A’s made some noise later in the game — Khris Davis his two solo home runs — but it wasn’t enough. Continuing his recent reign of terror at the plate, Davis’ two homers were his 18th and 19th home runs on the year — his third multi-home-run game this season.
“I never know how to explain the home runs that he hits,” Melvin said. “Power hitters are going through periods where they don’t get some hits, but they’re always one pitch away from doing that, what he does.”
A’s outfielder Jake Smolinski, who hadn’t pitched since his junior year of high school, came in for the ninth inning and gave up a double to Max Stassi and a home run to Marisnick before settling in, getting Springer to ground out, Tony Kemp to strike out and Correa to pop out.