By Morris Phillips
Whatever the A’s had cooked up for Wednesday’s series finale against the Astros, they knew this, it had to be good.
It may have been better than that.
The A’s avoided a fifth, consecutive loss to baseball’s hottest team by being near perfect: stopping the Astros’ red hot offense dead in its tracks while coming up with a pair of key hits and making them stand up in a 2-1 win.
The challenge of stopping Houston’s 10-game win streak initially fell on starting pitcher Frankie Montas. He delivered.
“They’ve beaten us four times in a row and we have to have somebody go out there and put up some zeroes. That’s exactly what he did,” manager Bob Melvin said. “In a game like that you have to count on your starter to lead the way and he definitely did that.”
Montas allowed three hits and a run in six plus innings of work. He picked up the win, and avenged his only loss a week ago in Houston. More impressive than his line was Montas’ methods including first pitch strikes to 17 of the 25 hitters he faced. The former reliever racked up 15 called strikes as hitters struggled to distinguish his splitter from his slider, and he established himself immediately.
Houston’s first three hitters: George Springer, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman saw just six pitches, four of those 96 mph plus. Springer struck out looking, Altuve popped out on the first pitch, and Bregman grounded to second base, but reached on Jurickson Profar’s poor throw. Montas wouldn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning, and he tossed strikes on 58 of his 88 pitches.
While Montas’ new and improved splitter drew questions in the postgame as observers noticed it confused the Houston hitters, all of his pitches were effective, the sign that the pitcher’s career is on a high trajectory.
“The slider was pretty good, too,” Melvin said. “A mix of pitches like that, throwing strikes and getting ahead, he’s a tough guy to hit when he’s ahead in the count and feeling pretty good.”
“He really didn’t concede much of anything,” Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch. “His power, his fastball was good, his breaking ball was good, he threw a split — his stuff was overpowering tonight.”
Profar rebounded from his throwing error with an RBI double scoring Mark Canha in the second. The former Ranger had two of the A’s four hits as Houston starter Wade Miley dealt as well.
But unlike Montas, Miley blinked in a big spot. Facing Matt Chapman in the sixth, a hitter Miley had retired in eight of his nine at-bats, he tried to get cute with off-speed offerings. But when Miley offered a cutter that caught the plate, Chapman jumped on it. The ball exited at 110 mph landing 441 feet away in the center field bleachers.
The A’s stayed on the defending AL West champs in the late innings with Lou Trivino downright filthy in the eighth, and Blake Treinen good as advertised in the ninth.
The A’s moved above. 500 with the win and get a day of rest before facing the Blue Jays over the weekend. Toronto has dropped six of their nine road contests, and will start winless Marcus Stroman on Friday night. Aaron Brooks starts for Oakland, a big spot for Brooks with starter Marco Estrada placed on the injured list before Wednesday’s game.