The reclamation project that was Oakland Athletics starter Brett Anderson had finally begun to bear fruit. Over the month of August, though he only had one win to show for it, the 30-year old left-hander had a 0.68 ERA in four starts, headed into Monday’s date against the AL West-leading Houston Astros.
Staked to a 4-0 lead, though, Anderson couldn’t continue his run through the dog days of the season, as Houston extended their division lead with an 11-4 win in the first game of a pivotal three-game set. Alex Bregman had four hits, Marwin Gonzalez had three and Tyler White had two as the Astros increased their lead to 2.5 games.
Two-run blasts by Marcus Semien and Matt Chapman had the visitors looking great early on, but a single by Martin Maldonado — a .224 hitter entering the night — sparked a five-run bottom of the third and gave Houston (81-50) the lead for good.
George Springer followed Maldonado with an RBI double — a shot past Matt Chapman’s attempt to pick it and start an inning-ending double play. Bregman doubled him home and Jose Altuve continued with a third consecutive RBI two-bagger to bring the Astros within a run. Stephen Piscotty kept the A’s ahead momentarily with a diving catch to stymie Carlos Correa, but Gonzalez singled to score Altuve, tie the game and chase Anderson. White’s two-strike single against Yusmeiro Petit would put the hosts ahead.
Though Anderson struggled tremendously, Houston native, Texas A&M product and former Astros farmhand Daniel Mengden shone in his first career relief appearance, as he got his first major league action since spraining his foot in June. Over the next four innings, he kept the reigning World Series champions scoreless, allowing four hits and a pair of walks.
Unfortunately for Mengden, the A’s offense went silent after the top of the third. Gerrit Cole struck out eight over six innings, and over his last three frames, he allowed just one hit and one walk.
Houtson would finally break things open in the bottom of the eighth as Josh Reddick reached third to start the frame on a ball that popped out of Nick Martini’s glove for a single. Martini then missed the cutoff man and the throw got away from first baseman Matt Olson. Lou Trivino responded by striking out Maldonado, but Springer managed to work a walk with brilliant discipline after getting behind in the count. Bregman came up next and hit a three-run homer that barely cleared the right-field fence and Piscotty’s glove.
Things would get no better for Emilio Pagan, who has allowed four homers in the month of August to the Astros. He walked Gonzalez with two outs before White turned on an inside fastball for the second three-run jack of the inning.
The end result was a far cry from how things had looked in the early innings. Khris Davis opened the second with a ten-pitch walk against Cole and Semien made the Astros pay, launching a monster two-out homer onto the train tracks beyond the seats in left field. Chapman’s third-inning homer landed in the Crawford Boxes beyond the short porch in left after Ramon Laureano had led off the inning with a double.