It was another tense, extra innings affair for an Astros club that has already endured several thus far this season Friday night. Facing the division rival A’s, Astros starter Zack Greinke was masterful in a pitcher’s duel with Oakland starter Chris Bassitt in a game in which neither team ever led by more than one run.
The Astros played with the lineup a bit in the absence of George Springer, deploying Kyle Tucker in the leadoff spot and Myles Straw in center, but the offense simply wasn’t able to get much going against the A’s staff. The team had just a single baserunner through two frames, but were able to break through for their only run in the first nine innings in the third, when Tucker slapped an opposite field double to bring home Martin Maldonado, who had reached on a one out walk.
This gave Zack Greinke a narrow lead to work with, and he was able to maintain it for the duration of his outing. It goes without saying that Greinke isn’t the same pitcher he was years ago, but he’s shown in 2020 that he is still more than capable of giving big league hitters fits with the style of pitching he’s developed in recent years. Through the first three innings he was absolutely cruising, scattering a couple of hits without really breaking a sweat, and didn’t face a real threat until the 4th. In that frame, Matt Chapman came up with a one out double, but in a fortuitous turn Greinke induced a line drive that he caught and threw to second for a double play.
There was again a bit of trouble in the home half of the 5th, when Sean Murphy came up with a one out single, following a leadoff lineout and a HBP to ex-Astro Robbie Grossman, to put runners on first and second. Tony Kemp then walked to load the bases, but Greinke was again able to create a double play, this time by way of a ground ball to short. After a 1-2-3 top of the 6th for Bassitt, an unfortunate misplay by Myles Straw put a runner on third to leadoff the bottom. In an incredibly tense spot, Greinke pulled out a beautiful performance, collecting two straight strikeouts before a towering pop fly ended the inning with the 1-run lead intact.
The Astros were again quiet on offense in the 7th, and Dusty Baker lifted Greinke in favor of Josh James for the bottom of the inning. James got Khris Davis for the first out, but then served up a home run to Grossman to tie the game. He was able to clean up the rest of the inning without issue, but the solo shot changed the complexion of the game immediately. Trying to answer in the 8th, the Astros again were only able to send three runners to the plate. Kyle Tucker went down swinging to lead things off, which Jose Altuve followed with a base hit that was promptly wiped out by an Alex Bregman GIDP.
Next to the mound for Houston was Andre Scrubb, who looked solid if a bit around the plate in his inning of work. After getting Ramon Laureano to fly out to lead things off, Scrubb walked Matt Olson, but was able to induce another flyout from Matt Chapman before whiffing Mark Canha to end the inning. This brought A’s closer Liam Hendriks to the mound for the top of the 9th, and he quickly got to work with a pair of strikeouts before Josh Reddick singled to give the Astros a bit of hope to bring in the go ahead run. However, Myles Straw hit a ground ball that might have gone for a base hit with the bases empty, but ended up as a force out retiring Reddick to send it to the bottom of the 9th.
Dusty entrusted Ryan Pressly, who has looked shaky in his return, with the 9th, and he responded by working an effortless 1-2-3 inning to send the game to extras, a welcome development for Houston. The free runner on second did nothing to jumpstart the Astros offense, who went down in order against Jake Diekman. Out of the pen came Enoli Paredes, who produced an impressive frame. The A’s opted to bunt the runner over to third to start things off, but Paredes then went strikeout-walk-strikeout to neutralize the threat and give the Astros another shot.
Unfortunately, it was the same story for Houston in the 11th, as they only managed a one out walk before going down, forcing Paredes back out for another inning, where he had a bit of an adventure. Things got hairy early, as a leadoff base hit put runners on the corners for Mark Canha, but Paredes was able to whiff not only him, but the next batter to the plate as well in Khris Davis. He then got Robbie Grossman, owner of the A’s only RBI to that point, into a 1-1 count, but then lost a fastball inside and hit him, loading the bases with two outs. This brought up backstop Austin Allen, and Paredes was able to get ahead in a 1-2 count after a first pitch ball. Perhaps showing a bit of nerves, he then lost a pitch that Martin Maldonado had to reach for, but very impressively settled down to generate a swinging strike on a fastball at the letters to escape. It was an impressive, gutsy performance from the rookie, and illustrates his ability to work multiple innings, something he has also done in the minors.
The top of the 12th got off to an auspicious start for the Astros, as Josh Reddick came up with an infield single to lead things off, moving Carlos Correa to third with nobody out. Myles Straw then came to the plate, and quickly got ahead in the count against A’s reliever J.B. Wendelken before striking a ball pretty well, but it unfortunately went right to shortstop Marcus Semien, freezing the runners. Dusty then opted to let Martin Maldonado, who has cooled off greatly at the plate since a hot start, bat rather than lifting him for a pinch hitter. Maldonado left the bat on his shoulder for five pitches, leading to a full count, from which he then struck out swinging. This put the Astros’ scoring chances in the hands of Garrett Stubbs, and he did not come through.
For the bottom of the 12th, another rookie was tasked with keeping the Astros alive, and things got hairy. Tony Kemp worked a full count walk as the leadoff hitter, giving the A’s runners on first and second, and after inducing a lineout off the bat of Marcus Semien, Castellanos hit Ramon Laureano (on a pitch that would’ve been ball four anyway) to load the bases. This brought Matt Olson to the plate in what looked to be an impossible matchup, but Castellanos was able to reach back for a strikeout to give himself a chance to get out of the inning. He then got Matt Chapman into an 0-2 count, and after a short battle induced a groundout to complete an unbelievable escape.
If you believe in momentum, this was a serious shift in the Astros favor. With the bases loaded and the A’s two best hitters coming to the plate they looked all but doomed, but when they failed to capitalize, the Astros got to bring the heart of their order to the plate in the 13th with some decent speed on second in the form of Garrett Stubbs. And, as fate would have it, it was in the top of the 13th that they finally broke through. After Jose Altuve fouled out to lead off, Alex Bregman delivered with an RBI double to give the club a 2-1 lead. Unfortunately, from there they weren’t able to generate any further damage with Michael Brantley and Yuli Gurriel both lining out, but it gave Cy Sneed a chance to get the save in the bottom of the inning. Sneed looked comfortable, generating two quick outs before intentionally walking Robbie Grossman to set up the force. He then got out in front of Austin Allen 0-2, but disaster struck as Allen came through with an RBI hit to tie the game.
The A’s then got to send Tony Kemp to the plate with a chance to end the game, and Sneed seemed to lose the plate in the middle of the plate appearance, leading to a base loading walk. This brought Marcus Semien to the dish, and he promptly ended the game with a hit. The defeat is a crushing one for the Astros, who not only lose ground in the division but completely squander a great performance from their rookie relief arms. Their bullpen is not designed to win games, but tonight it gave them a chance to, and they were unable to seize it. The Astros will be back in action against Oakland tomorrow.