By Morris Phillips
OAKLAND — For the A’s, losing to the Houston Astros is inherently frustrating enough without the exhausting efforts needed for extra innings, or the itchy umpires’ hair trigger ejections.
And the mood swings associated with winning and losing streaks, not to mention all four of the squandered, solo shots, along with the other big at-bats
Sunday was the conclusion of a cautionary tale in two parts, as the A’s fell to the Astros 6-4 in 12 innings, a real tooth-and-nail battle, on the heels of the Astros’ dominating 5-1 win Saturday night, starring the ageless Justin Verlander.
And the message sent emphatically by the division-leading Astros, who were minus three of the American League’s most dynamic players?
Oakland, you’re not there yet.
“They’re running out great pitchers. They’ve got plenty of arms,” said Matt Chapman, who hit a big home run leading off the eighth inning that would ultimately send the game to extras. “We’ve definitely got our work cut out for us. They’ve had our number obviously the last couple of years. It’s their division until somebody knocks them off their reign.”
The Astros swept the series, and increased their advantage over the third place A’s to 10 1/2 games. They’ve won seven of the first eight meetings this season between the clubs, after winning 12 of 19 last season.
And the A’s haven’t exactly sat idle during all this. They’ve fought, scrapped and more often that not, come up short. On the heels of a 10-game win streak, they’ve lost five in a row, and as talented as they are, the A’s can’t seem to put it together–within a game, or for an extended stretch.
“We had the 10 in a row going and couldn’t back it up. It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster for us,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We have to find a way to be a little more consistent.”
On Sunday, a lot of good things transpired for the A’s. They got a quality outing–and a return to form–from starter Chris Bassitt. The Oakland defense took a beating from the Astros’ running game, featuring dynamic fill-in Myles Straw, who was 3 for 4, stole second base three times and scored three times. But the A’s relievers battled, and the entire lineup came up with big at-bats.
It just wasn’t enough.
The Astros first exhausted Blake Treinen then wore down Lou Trivino in the second of his two innings providing the visitors a breakthrough in the twelfth. Straw singled, then stole second. With one out, Michael Brantley and Yuri Gurriel came up with back-to-back RBI singles to give Houston a 6-4 lead.
“I think for any power pitcher, the second inning would be tough,” Melvin said. “We use him a lot and we have to find a way to maybe use him a little bit less. When you’re that good, you want to try to stay in the game and win it.”
After Chapman’s game-tying blast in the eighth, 10 of the final 18 A’s to bat struck out. Of the eight that didn’t succumb to strikes, none drew a walk. And the highlight at-bat–Ramon Laureano’s 11-pitch battle with Ryan Pressly–ended with the centerfielder looking at strike three with two runners aboard to conclude the eighth.
Laureano’s reaction? A swift grab and slam of his batting helmet to the Coliseum turf.
Somehow, Laureano’s act of frustration flew below the radar of home plate umpire Alan Porter. Two innings later, Stephen Piscotty struck out to end the tenth. A magic word or two later, Piscotty was tossed, and Melvin too, coming to Piscotty’s aid.
Porter also ejected Marcus Semien on Saturday, an extension of the rancor built up by Semien’s pop down the left field line that drew chalk, but was ruled foul, then held up by replay.
Curiously, neither Piscotty or Semien had ever been ejected–at any level of their careers.
That should tell you a lot,” said Piscotty of the circumstances of Porter ejecting players with no previous history on consecutive days.
The A’s get Monday off before starting a road trip in Anaheim with the Angels on Tuesday night.