When Houston Astros starter Lance McCullers controls his knuckle-curve, it’s almost unhittable. He often breaks the mid-80s offering into the zone for called strikes to get ahead of the count before spinning it off the plate to get swinging misses. Against the Chicago White Sox on July 6, he threw the knuckle-curve 58 times and induced 16 whiffs.
On Wednesday, the Oakland A’s hunted the pitch, twice blasting it deep to left field. The first time, designated hitter Khris Davis crushed a two-run double to the wall in left-center. The second time, left fielder Chad Pinder pulled a three-run home run into the Crawford Boxes. Both times, McCullers left his knuckle-curveball down the middle and the A’s made him regret it.
Those extra-base hits jumpstarted Oakland’s offense in an 8-3 win over Houston. The A’s are now positioned to win the four-game series despite a grueling extra-inning defeat to the Astros on Tuesday in which they came back from a four-run ninth-inning deficit only to lose two frames later.
On Wednesday, Davis finished 2-for-5 with three RBIs and Pinder went 2-for-3 with three RBIs. Newly-named All-Star second baseman Jed Lowrie reached base four times.
McCullers entered Wednesday with a 3-0 record and 1.89 ERA against the A’s this season. He was roughed up for three runs in the first inning (with two coming from Davis’ double) and three more in the fourth. He exited after allowing the first two runners to reach base in the fifth.
Almost every Houston hurler had tamed Oakland at some point this season, making the breakthrough against the typically tough McCullers particularly impressive. The A’s entered the matchup with a 2-9 record against the division-leading Astros, a mark that included a walk-off loss on Tuesday in which a bizarre series of errors on a dribbler in front of the plate enabled Houston to win.
With its offense clicking and starter Chris Bassitt limiting damage across five frames, Oakland avoided another setback on Wednesday. Bassitt allowed three runs on five hits, continuing his run as a serviceable back-end starter after missing last season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
A strong bullpen showing sealed the victory. Emilio Pagan and Ryan Dull bridged to the ninth inning with three scoreless frames, and Ryan Buchter kept the Astros off the scoreboard to finish the job. That came after the relief unit allowed three runs (two earned) on Tuesday.
Right fielder Stephen Piscotty, who has been perhaps Oakland’s hottest hitter of late, exited the game in the fifth inning after being struck in the hand with a pitch. He’d homered in his previous four games. The team announced he suffered a left wrist contusion.
With a victory on Thursday, the A’s would claim their fifth straight series. They’re just 5 1/2 games out of the Wild Card spot pending the late result of the Seattle Mariners game against the Los Angeles Angels.