If the Oakland Athletics are going to hunt for the American League West crown in 2019, they’re going to need to take down the Houston Astros, something they couldn’t do on Friday night in the first of the 19 meetings the teams will play over the course of the season.
Collin McHugh, who was stellar out of the bullpen for the Astros in 2018 as they won their second consecutive division title, was every bit as good in the rotation to lead his team to victory in their home opener, topping the A’s 3-2 at Minute Maid Park by allowing just one run over six innings.
The lone hairy situation McHugh dealt with came in the top of the third, when Oakland (6-5) got a leadoff double from Ramon Laureano and loaded the bases with two outs, but he responded by striking out Khris Davis, who went 0-for-4 on the night and 0-for-3 against McHugh, who has held him to just one hit and one walk over the course of 20 encounters over their careers.
Houston (3-5) took the lead in the bottom of the third, with Tony Kemp walking on a payoff pitch that Nick Hundley did a poor job of framing. He advanced to second on a George Springer groundout, and a Jose Altuve infield hit put men on the corners. Alex Bregman, typically a very patient hitter, got a rare green light on a 3-0 count, and singled to center for the game’s first run.
Laureano had four hits on the night for the visitors, including a pair of RBI singles, but his teammates would combine for just three hits. Carlos Correa led off the bottom of the fourth with a solo homer to put the Astros back in front. A single by Yuli Gurriel and a Josh Reddick base knock that Jurickson Profar couldn’t handle continued the rally, and a one-out Kemp single loaded the bases. Frankie Montas, though, got George Springer to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
Montas also avoided catastrophe in the fifth, walking both Bregman and Correa but striking out Gurriel. Over his five innings, Montas needed 92 pitches, scattering seven hits and a trio of free passes, but limited Houston to just the two runs. Yusmeiro Petit took care of the sixth, but the Astros got a crucial insurance run off J.B. Wendelken in the seventh. Springer dropped a single into left field and Altuve followed with an RBI double to the gap, though the burly right-hander from Georgia struck out the next three batters he faced to keep Oakland within two.
Unfortunately for the A’s, the only damage they’d record against the Astro bullpen would be a single run in the ninth. Laureano singled off Hector Rondon with one out in the seventh, but was caught stealing after Nick Hundley struck out, and Matt Chapman’s one-out infield hit off Ryan Pressly in the eighth yielded no results. Morales led off the ninth with a single off Roberto Osuna, and after both Marcus Semien and Profar struck out swinging, Laureano singled to bring home pinch-runner Mark Canha. That brought up Chad Pinder to pinch-hit for Hundley, and he grounded out to short to end the game.