FILE: A’s center fielder Mark Canha (20) swings for a strike from Giants Jeff Samardzija (29) during the second inning at Oracle Park on March 26, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Canha got the lone RBI for the A’s on Monday against the Houston Astros. (Chris Victorio | Special to S.F. Examiner)

A’s lay egg in opener of pivotal series against Astros

Houston boat races Oakland as A’s are forced to pitch Nick Martini

After going toe-to-toe with the Minnesota Twins for four games in what felt like a playoff preview, the Oakland Athletics arrived in Houston with the hopes that they could put up a strong fight against the division-leading Astros and close the gap in the American League West, which was 6 1/2 games entering Monday.

Instead, the host Astros demolished Homer Bailey in his second start in an A’s uniform, scoring 11 runs in the first three innings and cruising to an 11-1 win, reinforcing their status as the big dogs in the AL West.

Rookie sensation Yordan Alvarez, the latest in a seemingly endless line of top prospects for Houston, started things off for the Astros (65-37) with a solo homer in the bottom of the second. The Astros would get three more hits in the inning and take advantage of a walk and a hit-by-pitch to score three more times, plating runs on a George Springer single, Jose Altuve walk and Alex Bregman groundout.

That was just an appetizer for the onslaught that would ensue in the third. Alvarez led off with a walk, and Yuli Gurriel’s 11th homer of the month and 19th of the year made it 6-0. A Josh Reddick double and Robinson Chirinos single brought up Aledmys Diaz, who took advantage of the playing time he’s received in the wake of Carlos Correa’s bizarre massage injury, hitting a three-run homer into the Crawford Boxes in left field to end Bailey’s night. After holding Seattle to two runs over six innings in his A’s debut, Bailey recorded just six outs and allowed nine runs in his home state on Monday night.

An Alvarez double and Gurriel single would bring in two more runs before the inning ended, and the only drama that remained would be if Oakland (57-44) would be able to get a baserunner against Gerrit Cole, who struck out 11 for his 11th win and 12th double-digit strikeout performance of the year. The only hits he allowed came in the fourth inning as Matt Chapman’s fly ball to shallow right squirted out of Reddick’s glove despite a strong diving attempt. Mark Canha would double Chapman home later in the inning for the lone A’s run. Robbie Grossman was the only other baserunner to reach against Cole, walking in the top of the fifth.

On a night with few positives for the Athletics, perhaps the biggest success of the night was when outfielder Nick Martini, called up from Triple-A with pitcher Brett Anderson on paternity leave, pitched a scoreless bottom of the eighth. He walked the first two batters of the inning, but got a flyout and popout before striking Tony Kemp out on a 75-mile per hour fastball to end the frame. He kept the ball.

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