Have to make a quick exit, so here’s tonight’s game story …
In the 13 days prior to Monday, the A’s played four of the best teams in the American League, posted a 9-4 record, and looked every bit a baseball club on an express train to the playoffs.
Monday night, however, the train jumped the tracks a bit. Oakland played the worst team in the A.L., the Houston Astros, and looked far less full speed ahead in a 3-2 defeat before an announced Coliseum crowd of just 11,569.
The A’s have to hope this curious setback was an anomaly rather than a trend against teams under .500 and out of the postseason picture. Other than their three-game series against the Texas Rangers next weekend in Arlington, the A’s play 19 of their final 22 games against also-rans.
After winning their first 10 games of the year against Houston, the A’s have now lost four of six to the lowly Astros, and three of four to them in Oakland. On this night, they were done in for the most part by right-hander Brad Peacock, a pitcher they included in the trade for infielder Jed Lowrie and had already beaten twice this season.
Peacock (4-5) gave up just three hits, one walk and struck out nine through the first seven innings against a team that pummeled Texas’ Yu Darvish little more than 24 hours before. But the A’s were quick to say Peacock’s effort was not a fluke.
“I had the opportunity to catch Peacock a lot in the minor leagues, and he has the capability to have pretty good stuff,” said Josh Donaldson. “I think we let him get a little comfortable early. The longer the game went, the stronger he got.”
Manager Bob Melvin agreed.
“(Peacock) was getting ahead of us and we probably didn’t make the adjustment until it was a little bit late,” he said. “Once he got ahead, his stuff was much better than we’ve seen.”
But were the A’s flat after their great run?
“I don’t know, I don’t think we came out blazing,” Donaldson said. “It was just one of those days where … I don’t what happened. Come back (Friday) and try to get a win.”
The A’s finally did stage an offensive rally in the eighth inning that chased Peacock, but it came up a run short from tying the game, and then Oakland was shut down by Houston’s fourth pitcher, Josh Fields, in a 1-2-3 ninth.
The meager offensive output ruined another terrific start by rookie right-hander Sonny Gray, who pitched eight innings and retired 20 of the final 21 hitters he faced. He walked one and struck out seven.
But the Astros jumped on Gray (2-3) for six hits and three runs in the first two innings on a two-out RBI single by another former Athletic, Chris Carter and then notched two more runs in the second.
Gray recorded an opening strikeout but then gave up consecutive singles to the No. 8 and 9 hitters, L.J. Hoes and Matt Pagnozzi. He struck out Jonathan Villar for the second out, but Altuve singled to left to bring home Hoes and left fielder Cespedes allowed the ball to carom hard off of his glove into the bullpen and Pagnozzi scored as well.
“I’ve got to do a better job earlier in the game,” said Gray. “I kind of got us off to kind of rough start and we were digging ourselves out of a hole the whole game. They didn’t hit the ball hard, but I wasn’t executing my pitches, especially in the second inning.”
Melvin said his young pitcher could have received more support both in the field and at the plate.
“We didn’t play really great behind him,” Melvin said. “We were a little in-between on a couple of plays and those things end up costing you in close games. But then he settled in really nicely, similar to what he’s done here recently, which was pitch very well.”
Quick note: Melvin was not available to the media until well after the game, but he said later he had to deal with a personal matter not relating to the game.