OAKLAND — The Oakland Athletics were riding high last week amid a lengthy winning streak, but they were humbled this weekend by the AL West division-leading Houston Astros.
The A’s lineup once again couldn’t get enough going against Houston’s pitching in a 12-inning, 6-4 defeat, as the Astros completed a sweep at the Coliseum and pushed Oakland’s losing streak to five games.
“Frustrating, obviously,” said manager Bob Melvin. “We were on a nice little roll, and then we lose the last couple [against the Los Angeles Angels], and then three more [against the Astros]. We had a lot of momentum going, I think it was 10 [wins] in a row, and couldn’t back it up here, so it’s been a little bit of a rollercoaster for us. We gotta find a way to be a little more consistent.”
All of the A’s runs on Sunday came on solo homers. Robbie Grossman and Jurickson Profar went deep in the second inning, Ramon Laureano followed in the seventh, and then Matt Chapman tied the game in the eighth. Beyond those blasts, only one other Oakland runner even got as far as third base.
“We can’t live and die by the homer, we’ve gotta be able to find other ways to beat teams, because the Astros can beat you in a ton of different ways. So we’ve gotta kinda be like them in that way,” said Chapman.
The A’s had some other chances on Sunday, but they went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
“Usually when we’re good, we draw some walks, and make some guys work, and get some guys on base, and use our power that way,” said Melvin. “But there’s certain times you have to figure out a way to get some key hits with two outs with guys on, and we had some opportunities. We had some opportunities to win that game before it went as long as it did.”
The Astros pitching staff limited the A’s to just seven total runs during the three-game series. On Sunday it was starter Gerrit Cole with six sharp innings, and together with Friday starter Brad Peacock and Saturday starter Justin Verlander, the trio combined for 20 sparkling frames to silence Oakland.
The A’s pitching put in admirable effort despite the losses, holding Houston to just 14 runs in three games. On Sunday, Chris Bassitt registered a quality start by allowing three runs in six innings, even with his teammates committing a pair of errors behind him on defense.
“Overall good. Better than the last couple times out,” Melvin said of Bassitt, who had complained of general fatigue after his last start. “Looked like he had a little more life on the ball, good curveball, cutter was good as the game went along.”
The key Astros rally against Bassitt came in the fifth inning, with Oakland leading 2-1. Tony Kemp and Myles Straw, the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters in Houston’s lineup, both reached scoring position to open the frame. One out later, Alex Bregman hit a grounder toward the hole between shortstop and third base, which Marcus Semien got to in time to attempt a play. However, his throw skipped past Matt Olson at first base, and when the dust settled two runs had scored on the infield single to give Houston the lead.
“The one mistake I made today was walking Kemp,” said Bassitt. “It was pretty unacceptable. You walk guys in this lineup, you’re screwed, and unfortunately I walked Kemp, and now you gotta worry about him stealing and then they get a hit and now you’ve got first and third. You just literally have to make them earn every single run, and unfortunately, me walking Kemp started that fifth inning.”
The A’s battled back to tie the game in the eighth on Chapman’s homer, but the Astros were the first to find the plate in extra innings, in the top of the 12th. Lou Trivino, pitching his second inning of the day, allowed a single to Straw and a walk to Bregman, and then RBI hits to Michael Brantley and Yuli Gurriel for the go-ahead runs.
With the Astros missing several injured All-Stars from their own lineup, including Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa, some less-heralded names helped pick up the slack. Kemp, Straw, and outfielder Derek Fisher, in just his eighth Major League game of the season, combined to score five of the team’s six runs. Straw scored three times.
“I think everyone kind of struggles against the Astros,” said Bassitt. “They’re a great team. When you can lose Altuve, Springer, and Correa, and then go and somehow put a guy out there [in Straw] that’s the fastest guy in the big leagues now, it’s just like, c’mon. Their M.O. is putting pressure on you, and they’re probably the best in the big leagues at putting pressure on you.”
Chapman echoed that sentiment praising Houston’s depth, including the quality of their role players and backups.
“Obviously they’re a great team that’s deep, and when their guys go down they have guys that can come right in and pick them up right where they left off,” said Chapman. “That’s a really good team no matter who’s out there.”
The A’s frustrations came to a boil in the 10th inning. Stephen Piscotty was rung up on a 3-2 pitch and disagreed with the call, earning a rapid ejection from home-plate umpire Alan Porter within a few short seconds. Melvin ran out from the dugout and received a quick hook as well.
“That was my contention,” said Melvin. “What did he say that he got thrown out that quickly?”
The ejection was the first of Piscotty’s career, even dating back to high school. The same had been true of Marcus Semien, who was tossed by Porter during Saturday’s game while Semien was 20 yards away with his back turned walking toward the dugout.
“Most umpires can kind of let you vent a little bit,” said Piscotty. “He didn’t. He didn’t the other night.”
The loss drops the A’s back under .500, at 29-30. They now head out on the road for a three-city trip that will see them play 10 games in the span of nine days, including a makeup doubleheader against the Texas Rangers.
As for how to get back on the winning side of things, Chapman says it’s all about the small stuff.
“Just the little things, whether it’s getting a guy on base, or getting a timely hit,” said Chapman. “We might have made a couple defensive lapses over this series, and a team like that takes advantage of any little mistake. So I think it’s just, clean up the little things that helped us get to that win streak, and if we can get back to doing all those little things right then we’ll be on the right track.”