It’s getting harder and harder to dismiss the Oakland A’s as some kind of fluke. If there’s anyone before tonight who thought they were, if they still do they’re just as dense as a rock, or more homer than Simpson.
This game felt like the playoffs. Both teams fought with every pitch, every at bat, every play. Any one of them could have been decisive. The Oakland A’s, whose record is 39-16 since June 16th, think they are baseball’s latest next Big Thing, a team of destiny, and they are determined to overtake the World Champion Astros with a sweep this weekend.
The Astros, proud lion hearts all, do not shirk the challenge.
So many plays that could have changed this game.
Like in the A’s fifth, with Stephen Piscotty on second, Marcus Semien hit a weak grounder to third. Concerned with holding the runner at second, Alex Bregman bobbled the ball ever so slightly, allowing Semien to get a single officially, although most would agree that ball should have been an out. After a Carlos Correa error on the next batter, a Jonathon Lucroy double play scored Piscotty, and a Matt Chapman single scored Semien. Though both runs were officially earned, one or both could have been avoided if the normally strong left side of the Astros infield had made the kind of plays they usually do.
Astros starter Charlie Morton was scoreless for four innings, but was removed after the fifth.
The Astros led by two runs by the fifth on home runs by Alex Bregman and Martin Maldonado. They added their third and final run on a Josh Reddick RBI single in the sixth off tough Lou Trivino, which put them up, 3-2.
The A’s have one of the best late game bullpens in baseball. It seemed for the Astros that this game would depend upon her bullpen shutting down the A’s for four innings.
If tonight’s game came down to a dogfight between two very good bullpens, then the A’s exposed a weakness that has bedeviled the Astros all season. For although the Astros’ pen leads the league in ERA. FIP, xFIP, WHIP and near the top in most meaningful statistical categories, they have been near the bottom all season in clutch situations.
Except for Ryan Pressly, who pitched a perfect seventh inning with two strikeouts, the Astros relievers, Collin McHugh, Roberto Osuna, Hector Rondon and Tony Sipp all had trouble throwing strikes, had too many 3-2 counts, allowed runners into scoring position, and in the cases of Rondon and Sipp, allowed decisive runs to score.
The A’s won round one of the bullpen showdown.
Rondon had his second blown save in as many appearances after walking two batters and allowing an RBI double to Nick Martini to tie the score. Is there some curse on the closers in Houston?
And here we come back to decisive plays. On the first play of the ninth inning Correa atoned for his earlier error with an amazing play on a grounder up the middle for out one. On the double by Martini, Correa took Reddick’s relay throw and threw a one hop, red hot strike to home plate that apparently got the runner out at the plate. Upon review the runner was called safe with the game tying run, sending the game into extra innings. Play here,
In the 10th A’s All Star closer Blake Treinen shut down the Astros, and since the Astros closer had already blown the save in the ninth, A.J. Hinch sent in lefty Tony Sipp to face left handed hitter Matt Olson. On a 3-2 pitch Matt Olson slammed a slider into the right field stands, ending the game. It was the only home run allowed by Tony Sipp all year. He had only allowed one run previously since May 11th in over 23 innings. He took the loss, his only one of the year, and he is now 2-1.
Blake Treinen was the winner, now 6-2, with a 0.87 ERA.
Many Astros fans will complain that the Astros lost because the umpires in New York gave the A’s the game when they overturned the out call in the ninth, allowing the A’s to tie the game.
Personally, I think it was the right call, although the evidence to overturn the call by the umpire on the field, who was in perfect position, seemed scanty. But that is not why the Astros lost.
The Astros lost because they only got six hits, and only one with runners in scoring position. They lost because they had only one base runner after the sixth inning, whereas the A’s kept the pressure on the Astros bullpen with eight base runners, the last of which touched all four of the bases.
The A’s hit a little better, they pitched a little better, they made fewer mistakes, and they were just a little hungrier.
It’s just one game. The Astros have proven before that they can come back in series that are just a little bigger than this one. Even more than talent, character defines the Astros.
Expect two more great games this weekend.
Dallas Keuchel, the Stros’ best pitcher since the All Star break, goes against Trevor Cahill.
Game time 3:05 CDT.
Box score and videos here.