Defensive woes doom A’s in rubber match in Houston

Marcus Semien. (Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)

For the most part, Jonathan Lucroy hadn’t produced much at the plate this year for the Oakland Athletics. But, he has provided solid defense behind the plate.

Despite being the key offensive producer on Sunday, his defensive struggles — along with the rest of the team’s fielding problems — doomed the A’s to an 8-4 loss to the Houston Astros, Oakland’s first series loss in two weeks.

Lucroy’s third hit of the day, a single off lights-out reliever Will Harris, tied the game in the top of the seventh, but his throwing error in the bottom half of the inning set off an ugly chain reaction to let Houston (19-10) break the game open. Alex Bregman walked against Trevor Cahill to open the inning, and with Cahill pulled for reliever Yusmeiro Petit, the defense imploded. Petit struck out Marwin Gonzalez, but Bregman stole second and advanced to third on an errant throw as Chad Pinder, getting a rare start in center field, failed to properly back the play up.

Petit also managed to induce a pop-up from pinch-hitter Brian McCann, but with the infield drawn in, Marcus Semien had to scramble for the ball and dropped it with his back to the infield. Bregman beat the throw home to give the Astros the lead, and the lumbering McCann scored all the way from first on Jake Marisnick’s RBI double, aided by a poor relay throw from Semien. Marisnick advanced to third on a pickoff error by Ryan Dull, the third Oakland error of the inning, and scored on Jose Altuve’s single.

In all, Oakland (14-14) made four errors. The first was catcher’s interference by Lucroy, part of a two-run rally to put the Astros on top in the bottom of the third after Lucroy had knocked in the game’s first run with a double.

Lucroy was the only one to put up solid results against Houston starter Gerrit Cole, who struck out 12 in 6 2/3 innings.

Cahill allowed three earned runs in six-plus innings, allowing four hits and striking out five, but the lone walk he allowed sent him to his first loss in his second stint with the A’s. The two runs in the third came on a George Springer single and an Altuve bunt, and Springer homered in the fifth.

Houston added two more runs off Santiago Casilla in the bottom of the eighth, and the A’s got one back in the ninth on Pinder’s two-out homer off Joe Smith.

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