The Oakland Athletics played the American League favorite Astros close through the final two games of their three-game series in Houston, but couldn’t manage to steal their second game in a row.
Following an 11-1 shellacking on Monday, Oakland came back to tie and win in extra innings on Tuesday despite a stellar start from Houston’s Wade Miley.
Justin Verlander, though, was just too good. He struck out at least one batter in every inning he was in, and allowed one unearned run on one hit while striking out 11, sending Oakland home with a 4-1 loss to cap a 3-4 road trip against two first-place teams in the Astros and Minnesota.
“Disappointing, because we didn’t come back to win the series,” starter Chris Bassitt told reporters. “This stretch of schedule, we just can’t get down on ourselves, and just got to grind through it. It’s a gauntlet we’re going through.”
The win gave Houston a 7 1/2-game lead on the A’s in the American League West standings. Oakland, however, is still fighting for the second AL wild card spot, 1 1/2 games back of Cleveland for the first spot at press time, and a game ahead of Tampa Bay, who lost to Boston on Wednesday.
They face a hungry Texas team for a four-game set at the Coliseum this weekend, then welcome in playoff-contender Milwaukee and MVP candidate Christian Yellich for three.
Oakland’s MVP for the last three seasons, Khris Davis was Verlander’s most prolific victim on Wednesday, striking out three times. He’s now 10-for-68 in 18 July games (.147) with 18 strikeouts. He wasn’t alone, as the A’s managed just six hits.
“We just didn’t have enough for Verlander,” said manager Bob Melvin.
Marcus Semien led off the first by sending a shot to third baseman Alex Bregman’s far left. Bregman made a 360-degree spin and fired blindly to first, up the line for an error, allowing Semien to reach. Semien came around to score when the next batter, Matt Olson, hammered a backdoor breaking ball to right, where former Athletic fan favorite Josh Reddick bobbled the ball for an RBI single and an error.
Verlander struck out the next four men he faced, and retired the next nine in a row. Olson’s single was the one of just two hits he allowed over six innings.
“Early on, we had some good at-bats off of him, but he seems to get better as the game goes along,” Melvin said.
Bassit retired the first seven men he faced, relying on his fastball to steal strikes on the corners and to locate both up and down in the zone.
“I thought Bass threw a lot better today,” Melvin said. “He didn’t walk anybody, had some strikeouts. Basically, it came down to two pitches.”
After giving up a one-out flare double to Robinson Chirinos with one out in the third, Bassitt then served up a mislocated, 1-2, 95-mph belt-high fastball to George Springer on his 22nd pitch of the inning, a pitch Springer pounced on for a 106.7-mph screaming two-run homer to left. Bassitt had not allowed a single ball hit over 96 mph up to that point.
With two outs in the fifth, Bassitt left a first-pitch cutter up to Jose Altuve, who tattooed it at 104 mph off the batter’s eye, 428 feet away in center for another two-run home run. It was the second of only two balls hit harder than 100 mph off of Bassitt, who struck out seven over six innings of work and allowed just five hits — much closer to his last two starts (11 IP, 2 ER, 9 H) than his disastrous six-run, 4 1/3-inning outing on July 6 against Seattle.
“I pitched a pretty damn good game, but it’s frustrating, because it’s just two pitches,” Bassitt told reporters in Houston. “Not even two mistakes. One mistake. Tried to beat Springer to a spot, he beat me to the spot. Then, the Altuve pitch, that was a mistake. That was a lapse in judgement.”
In the ninth, the A’s made some hay for the second game in a row against Astros closer Roberto Osuna, with Ramon Laureano reaching on a line-drive single to center, Mark Canha nearly reaching on a first-pitch grounder to third and Davis lancing a single to right, putting men at the corners on the first three pitches of the inning.
Osuna’s fourth pitch was tapped back to the mound by Robbie Grossman, and Osuna turned to force Davis at second, while allowing Laureano to score, cutting the lead to 4-2. Osuna, though, stifled the comeback, fanning Chris Herrmann on a changeup in the dirt to earn the save. It was Oakland’s third loss in its last four games, but the A’s are 12-6 over their last 18.
“We’re fine,” Melvin said. “There’s a lot of baseball left. We’ve overcome some gaps before, but that’s really not what we’re looking at rightnow. We’re just looking to try and continue to play really well, as we have been.”