OAKLAND — The leadoff home run by Jose Altuve was hardly what frustrated Rich Hill the most. It was the three walks and the sacrifice fly he gave up in the third inning that left Oakland’s left-hander shaking his head.
Hill allowed just two hits in six innings, but the Athletics stranded four runners in scoring position and lost to the Houston Astros 2-1 on Sunday.
“They just did a good job in the third inning,” Hill said following his third consecutive home loss. “My curveball wasn’t hitting early on and it came back in the fifth and sixth inning, but by that time they had already done their job.”
Altuve homered leading off a game for the fourth time this season — one of only two hits by Houston — to help the Astros avoid a series sweep.
Doug Fister gave up one run over 6 2/3 innings to end his three-game losing streak. Fister walked one, struck out five and pitched out of a pair of early jams to win his first start at the Coliseum in nearly two years.
Hill nearly matched Fister, but the A’s came up short and fell to 5-4 in one-run games.
Oakland loaded the bases in the second but failed to score and stranded runners at third after that, including in the seventh when Jed Lowrie flied out to end the inning.
“If we swung the bats better, a lot of times that’s enough,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “We had some opportunities if someone gets a big hit. We just weren’t able to do it.”
Altuve hit his seventh home run of the season on a 1-1 pitch from Hill after going hitless in the first two games of this series between AL West rivals.
Jason Castro singled and scored on Colby Rasmus’ sacrifice fly in the third for Houston, which finished 2-4 on its road trip.
“I thought I threw a pretty good curveball [to Altuve],” Hill said. “It was probably too much of a strike, but he did his job putting the bat on the ball and came out on top. Home runs are going to happen, but they did a good job in the third inning of capitalizing on my mistakes.”
Marcus Semien drove in Oakland’s run with a single in the seventh.
Tony Sipp, Will Harris and Luke Gregerson completed the eight-hitter for Houston. Gregerson pitched the ninth for his fifth save.
Houston needed the strong pitching after squandering numerous chances at the plate. The Astros left the bases loaded in the third, stranded a runner at second in the fourth and then hit into a double play to end the seventh following a one-out walk to Castro.
“We maximized our hits as best we could,” manager A.J. Hinch said.