By John Hickey
Special to S.F. Examiner
OAKLAND – The preliminaries are out of the way. With Wednesday’s agonizing 2-0 12-inning loss to the Mariners behind them, the A’s will play this weekend in the most important August series for Oakland since 2014.
Should things go well with Houston coming into town, the A’s could be in first place in the American League West by Sunday. Should things go poorly, there will still be 37 regular season games remaining in which to make things right.
The A’s left the Coliseum Tuesday not knowing their exact status with the Astros playing a night game at home against Colorado. They know they’re in second place and the Astros are in first. Not much else matters. With one-quarter of the season left, exact status is less important than the games at hand.
“It’s not late enough in the season to really scoreboard watch,” second baseman Jed Lowrie said. “We know where we are, but we can’t be worrying too much about the standings.”
Even as relative newcomers to pennant race baseball, the A’s know the task ahead of them. Houston starters Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander have combined to win 32 big league games already this year. Only two of those wins have come against the A’s, one each from Keuchel and Verlander.
The Astros swept the first two series played in the Coliseum. The first three games came before Oakland’s phenomenal rise from morbidity to win 38 of the last 51 games. The other three came as the only time since the first week of June that the A’s have lost a series. They are 14-1-2 in series since then, including taking three of four in Houston the last time the two sides met up.
If Oakland continues to get the kind of starting pitching laid down by Brett Anderson Wednesday, the A’s have to like their chances. He threw 7 2/3 scoreless innings against the Mariners. He didn’t get a decision, because the Oakland offense simply did nothing against Seattle pitching, but Anderson did extend the starters’ streak of terrific work. In the last 14 games, the starters have combined to go 8-1 with a 1.84 ERA.
The A’s had a chance to win the game in the 10th, but Matt Olson’s bomb to right hit off the top of the double wall rather than clearing it, and he wound up stranded at second base. After Lou Trivino, Fernando Rodney and Jeurys Familia carried Oakland from the eighth through the 11th, Yusmeiro Petit caught the strike zone with a 12th-inning changeup that Dee Gordon lined to right for his second homer of the year, good for the only two runs of the game.
“I was lucky,” Gordon said more than once in a relieved Mariners clubhouse. Seattle needed this one more than the A’s did, and the Mariners’ relief at pulling it out showed. “I didn’t know if it was going out.”
Anderson has thrown 19 2/3 innings this month and still hasn’t gotten a win out of it, despite a 0.92 ERA. He’ll settle for getting back in a groove on a team that has post-season aspirations thanks to the invigorating work coming from the starting rotation.
“Whenever teams are going their best, every starter feeds off each other,” he said. “You want to match or do better than the next guy. We all push each other. It’s fun.”
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