OAKLAND – After beating the Houston Astros in their first 10 meetings this season as co-members of the American League West, the A's began Friday having lost four of their last six games to the team with baseball's worst record. A mini-resurgence in Houston?
"I think it's as much to do with us," A's manager Bob Melvin said before Friday's game. "We haven't scored runs early in games like we were doing to them early on. We were getting ahead. Now they're getting ahead."
The A's got ahead twice Friday, knocking Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel around for 10 hits in the first four innings, and made the second lead stand despite A.J. Griffin being nearly as shaky in the early going.
With their 7-5 win, the A's took over sole possession of first place in the West by a half-game over the Texas Rangers, who lost in Anaheim.
A night after their former prospect Brad Peacock held them scoreless into the eighth, the A's led 1-0 after two innings Friday, tied the score at 3-3 in the third and went ahead 5-4 in the fourth.
Josh Donaldson hit a two-run homer in the sixth and finished a triple short of the cycle.
The home run loomed large as the Astros put the tying run on against closer Grant Balfour in the ninth in the form of Trevor Crowe, whose potential double-play grounder was bobbled by Eric Sogard, allowing a run to score.
Balfour, though, got Jason Castro to hit into a fielder's choice and struck out Matt Dominguez on a high fastball to strand men on second and third.
Balfour now has allowed runs in four of his last six outings, though only once has he failed to record the save. Melvin declined to say how long he would have stayed with Balfour against Houston – Dan Otero was warming up in the bullpen – but offered support for his closer.
"You've got to look at the body of work," Melvin said. "We'll continue to go accordingly. This isn't his best stretch right now, and we'll monitor that."
The A's, who came in leading the majors with 100 extra-base hits since Aug. 9, added four more as part of their 13 total, including back-to-back doubles by Donaldson and Jed Lowrie to start the third. Both scored, though at the time it looked like the A's might look back on the inning with some regret.
They stranded five runners in the second and third innings alone before chasing Keuchel with one out in the fourth. Coco Crisp walked, Donaldson singled and Lowrie singled to tie the score and end Keuchel's night after 95 pitches, 10 outs recorded and 10 hits allowed.
But the Astros stuck around against Griffin, who recorded his 13th win despite the continuation of a troubling trend. Griffin entered allowing the lowest opponents' batting average the first time through the order (.172) of any major-league pitcher with 130 or more innings, and got through the Astros one time allowing only a first-inning double.
That average rose to .264 after opponents had seen Griffin once, and his trouble Friday began as soon as Houston's lineup turned over. Jonathan Villar hit a one-out double in the third, Jose Altuve singled to score Villar, and Crowe singled. After both runners moved up on Jason Castro's flyout, Dominguez singled over the head of Donaldson to give the Astros a 3-1 lead.
Griffin also allowed an RBI single to Villar in the fourth but retired the next eight batters before leaving the game. His best inning came at the best time for the A's: After taking a one-run lead in the fourth, Griffin struck out the side in the fifth, finishing with a season-high nine strikeouts in his six innings.
Note – Melvin said the A's are targeting Tuesday in Minnesota for right fielder Josh Reddick (wrist) to take batting practice on the field.
Call The Bee's Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015, and read his online reports at blogs.sacbee.com/bay-area-baseball.