OAKLAND — Oakland Athletics starter Brett Anderson left the mound in the sixth shaking his head. He didn’t leave because of performance — he’d held a dangerous Houston Astros lineup with a .419 career average against him to three runs in five innings — but because of a blister.
“That isn’t the story,” Anderson said. “The story is that I threw a horrible pitch to [Alex] Bregman.”
A three-run home run by Bregman in the fifth was the winning margin for the Astros, who avoided a four-game sweep with a 4-1 win over the A’s, pushing Oakland 7 1/2 games back in the American League West and a game-and-a-half back of the second wild card with 38 games to play.
The loss was a missed opportunity for Oakland to jump back into the division race against a team that had lost five straight and isn‘t likely to lose many more, thanks to the acquisition of a third ace in Zack Greinke, who held Oakland to just four hits in seven innings.
Anderson, on the other hand, lost his sixth game in 12 home starts. With sub-par stuff and no command, Anderson allowed seven baserunners over the first four innings, including four walks and his own throwing error, but still, he managed to dance out of trouble.
With two on and one out in the first, Anderson allowed a single to right by Bregman, but Chad Pinder — playing in place of the injured Stephen Piscotty — delivered a two-hop throw to Josh Phegley at home to erase Jose Altuve. It was Pinder’s fourth outfield assists on the season and third in right, where he’s played just 17 games.
Anderson then used a slider down to strike out Yordan Alvarez to end the inning, used it again to induce an inning-ending double play in the third and then got Robinson Chirinos waving at it to end the fourth and strand two.
Marcus Semien’s 21st home run of the season on a mis-located 3-2 Greinke fastball staked Anderson to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth, and in the fifth, Anderson got into another two-on, one-out jam.
After getting a pop-out to short by Michael Brantley (who came in 6-for-15 against Anderson), the A’s lefty got ahead of Bregman 0-2 with the slider. “I tried to throw a better one, and then I threw the worst one,” Anderson said.
Bregman turned that 0-2 slider around for a three-run homer — his 30th on the season.
“I had the potential to get out of the jam there,” Anderson said. “I think I tried too hard to make the perfect pitch and instead of going down and in, it kind of just went to his barrel and he hit it hard.”
After allowing an RBI double by Yuli Guriel in the sixth, Anderson ran the count full against Chirinos, but exited with the blister. It won’t impact his next start, but it did give Lou Trivino another chance to work.
Having seen his ERA surpass 5.00, the second-year reliever has now allowed just three earned runs over his last seven innings of work. He needed just seven pitches to get a grounder from Chirinos, a fly out from Josh Reddick and a foul out by Springer to a sprinting Matt Olson.
“A lot us just haven’t seen him enough so we use today as information and work from what we learned today,” Semien said. “I think we’re face him again here down the stretch.”
After an off day Monday, the A’s (71-53) will now host the Yankees (which has the best record in baseball) for three, and the red-hot San Francisco Giants for two. The day off will help rest the bullpen, which was short three arms on Sunday.
Had the A’s swept the Astros for the first time since 2017, they would have been 5 1/2games out with head-to-head games left. As it stands, they’re 1 1/2 games back of Tampa Bay, who will play three games against the doormat Mariners, seven against the worst team in the Major Leagues in Baltimore and only two against the Yankees — with the best record in baseball — and three against Houston.
While Oakland will face the hapless Kansas City Royals seven times floundering Seattle four times down the stretch, the path to the postseason through the wild card is far from easy.
The A’s play six against New York — including three this week — and four more against the Astros (79-46) over the final 38 games. They play AL West rivals Los Angeles (against whom the A’s are 9-5) and Texas (against whom the A’s are 8-5), but neither of the top wild card teams — Tampa Bay and Cleveland.
“It’s always been a pretty resilient team,” manager Bob Melvin said. “You see a lot of the walk-offs that we have here, and guys just expect to win.”