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McCullers, Tucker lead Astros in Saturday opener

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Astros take Game one of twin bill, 4-2. Close to 3.5 of A’s

Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros
Josh Reddick #42 of the Houston Astros hits a home run in the fourth inning against the Oakland Athletics during game one of a doubleheader at Minute Maid Park on August 29, 2020 
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

As has been the case in the entire world throughout 2020, not a lot makes sense. Who would have ever guessed the Houston Astros would play a Tuesday doubleheader at home followed by three days off when games had originally been scheduled, and then come back on Saturday and host another twin bill? Wednesday and Thursday’s contests against the Angels were postponed out of precaution due to Hurricane Laura and then the series opener with the Oakland A’s on Friday was called off right before first pitch after both teams stood in solidarity in response to the social justice initiative across America. When the A’s and Astros returned to the field Saturday, all players and coaches wore 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day, which had been celebrated throughout Major League Baseball on Friday.

90 hours off? No big deal for the Astros, who earned a 4-2 victory over Oakland in Saturday’s first game at Minute Maid Park.

Astros third base coach Gary Pettis quite possibly made one of the more crucial decisions of the game in the first inning. After A’s starter Chris Bassitt issued a two-out walk to Michael Brantley, Yuli Gurriel sliced a double down the right-field line, and Pettis opted to hold a charging Brantley at third base. It would have been a very tight play no matter what, but the call to play it safe paid huge dividends as red hot Kyle Tucker stood in and demolished a first-pitch changeup down the right-field line for a three-run homer. It was Tucker’s fifth long ball since Aug. 16 and gave him 15 runs batted in during the same stretch.

A similar play went against Oakland in the top of the second. After Lance McCullers Jr. fanned Matt Chapman and Matt Olson to start the frame (giving McCullers four punchouts in a row), Mark Canha drew a free pass. Ramon Laureano doubled down the left-field line, but Brantley quickly got to the fall, fired to shortstop Carlos Correa, who threw a strike to home plate, cutting down Canha to end the frame.

Although he labored with his pitch count early on, McCullers worked six quality innings, allowing only two runs (one earned) on six hits en route to earning his third win of the season. He finished with 93 pitches and struck out a total of seven hitters. Oakland scored their first tally when Robbie Grossman doubled to lead off the fourth and came in on a groundout from Matt Chapman. McCullers also gave up leadoff knocks in the third and fifth, but Correa started a 6-4-3 inning-ending double play each time.

Josh Reddick muscled up in the fourth inning, as his leadoff blast to right-center extended Houston’s advantage to 4-1. It was Reddick’s second long ball of the year. A walk and a base hit chased Bassitt from the game, but A’s reliever Lou Trivino did a nice job of damage control, retiring the next three hitters to keep his team’s deficit at three runs. Brantley came within inches of a three-run homer to right field, but Piscotty made the catch at the very top of the wall.

McCullers ran into trouble of his own doing with one out in the sixth after throwing away a ball hit by Grossman down the right-field line for a base-error. The miscue came back to bite him, as Chapman singled with two outs to make it a 4-2 ballgame.

Ryan Pressly made quick work of the A’s in the seventh, retiring the side in order on eight pitches for his fifth save of the campaign.

Tucker finished 2-for-3 as did Jack Mayfield, who equaled his season hit total coming into the contest.

The Astros and A’s will return to the field around 6 p.m. CT for the nightcap of the twin bill with Houston looking to capitalize on a golden opportunity to make up ground in the American League West division. The victory for the Astros in Game 1 trimmed first-place Oakland’s lead to 3.5 games. Zack Greinke (1-0, 2.29) has taken over as Houston’s ace with Justin Verlander sidelined and will look to improve on his stellar season to date when he takes the mound later tonight. Struggling Frankie Montas (2-2, 5.22) will get the ball for the A’s and attempt to get back on track.