Photo credit: @Athletics
By Lewis Rubman
In 13 innings
Houston: 2 | 9 | 0 | 12 LOB
Oakland: 3 | 8 | 2 | 6 LOB
OAKLAND, Calif. — Last night’s thrilling roller coaster victory over Houston, following Wednesday’s Perils of Pauline win over San Francisco, left the A’s 8 1/2 games behind the Astros in the Western Dvision, 2 games behind Cleveland for the first wild card slot, and 1 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay for the second wild card berth. The standings and the recent developments that led to them show that the there is reason for cautious optimism about the A’s chances for advancement even if their rehabbing pitchers–almost a starting rotation in itself–don’t recover as quickly and thoroughly as might be hoped.
Here’s a quick rundown of what the Athletic’s roster looks like nowadays.
Mark Canha has continued to show that, although lacking the injured Ramón Laureano’s pizzazz, he’s reliable and powerful at the plate and a more than competent center fielder with good range and a strong arm. He may not be as fleet afoot as Laureano, but who is? And Canha hasn’t a laser arm like Laureano’s, he hits his cutoff man and knows when not to attempt a Hail Mary throw.
Josh Phegley returned from the injured list today. That’s good news, although Dustin Garneau, who filled in for him admirably, was DFA’d to make room for Phegley.
Perhaps it’s too early to celebrate the return of stability to second base, but platooning right-handed hitting Chad Pinder and lefty batsman Corban Joseph at that position seems preferable to leaving the job to the switch-hitting (.304 right, .177 left) and throwing challenged Jurickson Profar. Pinder’s overall BA is .250, .264 from the right side. In the small sample of Joseph we’ve seen since he joined the team on Tuesday, he has gone 3-for-7 with one home run and three RBI. He did, however, commit an error tonight.
The bullpen situation is less encouraging. The acquisition of Jake Diekman, who joined the team on July 29, gave some wiggle room to the left handed relief crew. But his ERA in his 4 2/3 innings in eight appearances going into tonight was 5.79 and his WHIP was 1.93. The A’s go-to lefty had been Ryan Buchter, with an ERA of 3.19 and a WHIP of 1.61, nothing outstanding, but serviceable. His figures for August up until game time were more encouraging, 2 2/3 innings over three games with an ERA of zero and a WHIP of 1.13. The remaining southpaw in the Oakland pen, Weu-Chung Wang, has given up an earned run for each of the three innings he’s pitched so far this month and has a WHIP of 2.
The A’s major right-handed relievers, Joaquim Soria and Yusmeiro Petit, have been uneven, Petit being more reliable than Soria, who has given only occasional glimpses of how effective he can be. He had a chance to do that tonight and took full advantage of it. Last year’s one-two punch of Lou Trivino and Blake Treinen hadn’t seemed to have recovered the form that made them keys to the A’s late 2018 surge. Tonight Treinen pitched the seventh inning and showed some of the indominable skill and guts he exhibited last year. Trivino, the winner of tonight’s thriller, got a chance to strut his stuff starting in the eleventh . Mike Fiers continues to be solid starter if you discount his melt down in last night’s heat, and Homer Bailey was very, very good in his seven innings on Wednesday against the Giants. Brett Anderson has been starting his games well but faltering in the middle innings. Chris Bassitt turned a corner in late July and turned a decent start against the Cubs and an excellent one against the White Sox during the A’s visit to Chicago earlier this month.
This brings us to tonight’s starter. Tanner Roark, who was given the unenviable task of going up against Jutin Verlander. The A’s righty took the mound with a 1-1, 2.31 ERA record since joining the team, which is pretty close to his lifetime numbers of 2-0, 2.53 ERA against the Astros. Verlander, at 15-4, 2.82 ERA, is a strong contender for the Cy Young Award this year and has a good shot at making the Hall of Fame after he retires. At game time, he was 2-0, 0.64 ERA (yes, 0.64 ERA) against Oakland this season.
The teams traded zeroes and Ks for the first three innings, with Verlander striking out seven of the nine Athletics he faced (the two others flew out) and Roark fanning three of his 11 opponents.
Houston fell victim to The Curse of the Lead-Off Double in the top of the fourth, with Roark working his way out of trouble after Michael Bradley’s opposite field two bagger against the shift. But the A’s hurler had, by then, thrown 79 pitches. He also helped his own cause by making a couple of spiffy plays on balls hit sharply to the mound.
Oakland suffered a similar fate in its half of the frame when Marcus Semien led off the inning with a double off the center field wall but was stranded on third when Josh Reddick corralled Matt Olson’s fly to the warning track just in front of the 367 foot sign in right.
Mark Canha finally broke the tie in bottom of the fifth by blasting a 2-2, 95 mph Verlander four seamer into the left centerfield stands for his 18th round tripper of the season.
In their next turn at the plate, the Astros erased Oakland’s slim lead with another double–not a lead off one–by Brantley, a walk to Alex Bregman, a single by Yordan Alvarez, and Carlos Correa’s sacrifice fly to right. They went on to take the lead when Yuri Gurriel’s single to right center drove in Bergman from second. Canha came through defensively to compliment his dinger by throwing Gurriel out at second trying to stretch his hit.
It didn’t take the A’s long to catch up in their half of the sixth. With one out, Semien deposited a 2-2 pitch, a ninety-four mph, four-seam fast ball, over the Xfinity sign in right centerfield for his 20th dinger of the year.
Roark didn’t come out for the seventh, leaving after having thrown 102 pitches, 62 of them strikes. He allowed two runs, both earned, on six hits, and three walks. He symmetrically struck out three.
Melvin entrusted the inning to Blake Treinan, who promptly allowed a single to Robinson Chirinos to open the frame. Treinen then got Reddick to pop out to Olson and struck out Springer and Altuve on full counts.
Treinen’s succcessor, Jake Diekman, yielded a two-out double to rookie sensation Alvarez, but escaped the eighth without allowing a run.
Verlander’s work was over, having hurled 101 pitches (70 strikes) in seven innings, during which he gave up two runs (both earned) on four hits, which included a home run, and struck out 11 without allowing a walk. His replacement, Ryan Pressly, did, however, allow a base on balls, and it almost cost the Astros dearly. Semien got the pass and, with two out, stole second, advancing to third after Chirinos’s throw went into center field for an error. But Pressly dealt with the threat by getting Robbie Grossman to ground out to first, unassisted.
In the top of the ninth, it was another of the A’s bullpen question marks’ chance to preserve the tie. Joakim Soria set down Houston to a conga beat, 1-2-3. A.J. Hinch called on his closer, Roberto Osuna, to do the same to Oakland in bottom of the inning. He did, and the game went into extra innings with Soria back on the hill for the Green and Gold. He got the first two Astros he faced, K’ing Springer and getting Altuve to fly out to Piscotty in right. Then Brantley’s bouncer to Joseph in the shift at second went through the fielder’s legs for an error. He moved up to second when Soria walked Bregman on four pitches. Aledymas Díaz pinch hit for Jake Marisnick, who had pinch run for the DH Alvarez after his eighth inning double. Soria struck him out.
Enter Will Harris to pitch the last of the 10th for the visitors and to set down the home team in order. Lou. Trivino came in for the Houston half of the 11th, and the A’s erstwhile stellar set up man also had a 1-2-3 inning, as did Joe Smith in the bottom the frame for Houston.
Trivino gave up a two-out single up the middle to Altuve in the top of the 12th, but Brantley’s grounder to Olson, unassisted, put an end to the threat, such as it was.
Matt Chapman greeted Houston’s new pitcher, Hector Rondón with a first pitch double to center. He advanced to third on Olson’s slow grounder to Bregman. Chapman tried to score on Davis’s grounder to Correa, but was caught in a rundown between third and home, while the A’s DH made it to second, where Profar ran for him. Canha legged out a single to short, and Profar moved on to third. Piscotty, who was 0-for-4, came to the plate and grounded out to short.
Melvin kept Trivino on the mound for his third inning, the 13th. He struck out Bregman and Díaz. Then, with the count at 3-2, Correa hit a scorcher down the third base line that skipped past Chapman for a questionably scored two base error. After the A’s conceded a walk to Gurriel, Chirinos forced him at second on a ground ball to Semien. To the surprise of some of us in the press box, Houston chose not to request a review of the play, but instead brought in Cy Snead to pitch the bottom of the inning.
Joseph greeted him with a slicing single to left. Chris Herrmann sacrifice bunted him into scoring position. After Semien struck out, Hinch made another negative decision, not to walk Grossman and face Chapman. Grossman, batting from his strong side, laced a single to center, scoring Joseph. It was Grosman’s first career walk off hit.
The well deserved win went to Lou Trivino, who, in three innings, allowed only one walk, which was declared, or intentional, or whatever it’s called under the new rules, and struck out four Astros. His record now stands at 4-5. Snead took the loss.
The A’s now trail Houston 7 1/2 games in the division pennant race and are only a 1/2 game behind Tampa Bay for a play off spot.
Tomorrow afternoon’s game will feature Chris Bassitt (8-5, 3.56 ERA) against an unnamed Houston starter.