Coming into Wednesday, the Astros bullpen had been simply exceptional this postseason, allowing just four hits without a run of any kind over 16.2 innings. You know, the type of thing you only see in movies, especially after they ranked near the bottom of baseball in the regular season.
The stage was set up perfectly for them to continue to shine, as a five-run fifth inning had given Houston a 7-4 lead in Game 3 at Dodger Stadium. It appeared this series would end in the minimum three games necessary behind an offense that is more en fuego than the orange uniforms the team has been rocking this week, as well as a ‘pen that has been performing on another level.
However, ghosts of the past revealed themselves late in the afternoon. With the Astros nine outs away from a three-game sweep of the Oakland A’s, the relief core fell apart, and the A’s scored five unanswered runs en route to a 9-7 victory. The Astros still lead the series 2-1 and have two more opportunities to clinch - either tomorrow or Friday in Southern California.
The ‘pen finally experienced their first hiccup of the playoffs in the seventh inning. Josh James had worked a hitless sixth, but was greeted by singles from Semien and La Stella to begin the next frame. Chad Pinder then stepped in and poked a line drive that barely got over the grasp of Tucker and into the right-field seats for a game tying three-run homer.
With Brooks Raley on the mound in the eighth, Robbie Grossman led off with a walk and then Ramon Laureano hit a perfectly-placed flare down the right-field line that went for a double. After Sean Murphy vaulted Oakland back in front with a sacrifice fly, Tommy La Stella was plunked directly on the elbow. La Stella left the game in obvious pain but the A’s offense tacked on an insurance run thanks to another sac fly - this time courtesy of Semien.
There was high drama in the eighth inning with Liam Hendriks on the mound, as Correa opened with a single before Tucker reached on a catcher’s interference call to put the first two runners on base. But Hendriks retired the next three batters, including a strikeout of pinch-hitter Josh Reddick that led him to snap his bat over his knee while heading back to the dugout.
Hendriks retired the top of the order without incident in the ninth inning, but used many bullets in working the final three frames. He threw a total of 37 pitches, which could impact his availability in either of the next two days.
The game started out much like Monday’s opener, with an early home run barrage breaking out. A solo blast off the bat of Tommy La Stella gave the “visiting” A’s the in the top of the first, before Jose Altuve matched him with a one-out long ball in the bottom half. The Astros then got singles from Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman, and Brantley came into score on Carlos Correa’s RBI groundout.
Houston starter Jose Urquidy continued to experience Homer-itis on a pair of leadoff homers - Mark Canha in the second and Matt Olson in the fourth, the second blast of the postseason for each.
Urquidy retired the first batter in the fifth, but Marcus Semien followed by launching a ball well over the center-field fence to make it 4-2 in favor of Oakland. The fourth solo home run of the day ended the afternoon for Urquidy, who entered the game with just two total runs allowed in 14.1 career postseason innings across five outings. It tied the most long balls surrendered in a game by Urquidy in his professional career, done one other time, last July 15 for Triple-A Round Rock against Memphis.
Blake Taylor replaced Urquidy and the A’s loaded the bases with two outs, but the southpaw got Khris Davis to fly to center, ending the half-inning. Taylor’s work proved crucial, because Jesus Luzardo walked Yuli Gurriel to begin the bottom half, then Aledmys Diaz connected on a line-drive two-run blast to left, tying the contest once again.
Diaz made the most of his first postseason start, and the only other time he had homered in the playoffs as a professional is when he belted two in Game 1 of a first-round series for Memphis against Colorado Springs on Sept. 6, 2017.
Oakland brought in Yusmeiro Petit later in the inning, and the Astros once again battered the right-hander. Brantley’s run-scoring single gave Houston the lead, then Bregman ripped a line drive off the wall in left-center for an RBI double, making it 6-4. After an intentional walk to Correa, Petit was lifted, having surrendered three total runs in one combined inning over the last two games.
New pitcher? Doesn’t matter for this offense. Kyle Tucker greeted Jake Diekman with a seeing-eye single up the middle, plating Bregman for a 7-4 lead and capping a five-run frame.
This set marks the first time in postseason history that each team connected on at least eight home runs through the first three games of a series. In total, the Astros have eight home runs while Oakland has clubbed ten. We might still have two games to go, folks.
The first of those two possible contests will be played tomorrow, another early afternoon start in possibly cooler temperatures. It is expected to be in the low 70s at first-pitch time of 12:35 local time (2:35 CT), meaning the ball might not carry as well as it has so far this week, but we shall see. Neither team has announced a pitching probable as of the end of Game 3.