Sure, the A’s missed a chance Sunday to take over sole possession of first place in the American League West.
But with the way Oakland has played so far on its nine-game homestand — not to mention the month of August — it’s fair to assume there will be other opportunities. Perhaps as soon as this week.
The three-game series against Houston Astros ended on a sour note as the defending World Series champions belted five home runs to help earn a 9-4 win before a crowd of 29,143 at the Coliseum. But by taking two of three games from both the Astros and the Seattle Mariners in the last week, Oakland solidified its standing against two of its closest competitors.
The A’s enter Monday’s series with the Texas Rangers one game back of the Astros for first place in the division, and 3 1/2 games up on the Mariners for the second AL Wild Card spot. At the start of their homestand, the A’s were 2 1/2 games back of Houston and 1 1/2 up on Seattle.
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“You want to be greedy after you get two,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of the opportunity to sweep the Astros. “But, you look at things to start, and these are the two teams that we’re having to fight (with), at least at this point, and we take two out of three from both.”
Matt Chapman and Khris Davis both homered in the first inning for the A’s, with Davis adding another in the third — his 36th of the season — to briefly tie the game 4-4.
Still, an A’s pitching staff that had been largely rock solid for the last two months took it on the chin from the Astros.
Oakland starter Sean Manaea allowed six earned runs in four innings, and reliever Emilio Pagan allowed three solo home runs bridging the seventh and eighth innings.
It fell apart quick for Manaea, who largely cruised early on before he allowed four straight hits with two outs in the third, with the big blast being a three-run homer by Yuli Gurriel down the left field line that gave Houston a 4-2 lead.
The Astros added another run in the fourth, and Manaea (11-9) was taken out by Melvin after Houston scored in the top of the fifth for a 6-4 advantage. It was only the third time in his last 15 starts that Manaea had failed to last at least five innings.
“I wasn’t getting out and I just kept giving up runs,” Manaea said. “My job is to give the team a chance to win, and I just didn’t do that today.”
Both of Davis’ home runs came on first pitch fastballs from Astros starter Justin Verlander, with his second — an opposite field shot — tying the game 4-4. It was Davis’ 21st career multi-home run game, and his eighth this season. Verlander (12-8) had not given up more than four runs in any of his 20 career games against the A’s.
“Guys in the middle of the order you want to be able to handle good pitching and hit good pitching. Not everybody can do that,” Melvin said. “(Davis) can, and that’s why he is who he is. You lean on those guys a little more against the top flight pitchers, and he’s up to the task, always.”
The A’s had a chance to cut into the lead in the bottom of the sixth after Verlander was removed. But with the bases loaded and two outs, reliever Brad Peacock got Mark Canha swinging on a 82 mph slider.
Pagan then came on in relief to start the seventh and gave up solo home runs to Martin Maldonado and Alex Bregman. Marwin Gonzalez added another solo shot in the eighth for the Astros’ final margin of victory.
“You give up three homers, people will think you had a terrible outing,” Pagan said. “But honestly I thought it was just two bad pitches. I thought the (slider) to Bregman was OK. He’s a great hitter. The slider was down and away and he just got the barrel to it.
“The Maldonado homer and the Gonzalez homer weren’t good (fastballs). That’s going to happen.”
The A’s are now 11-4 in August, and have still won seven of nine series since the All-Star break. While the A’s play the last-place Rangers next, the Astros face the Mariners in Seattle.– a seemingly tougher task.
“Looking at the big picture,” A’s catcher Jonathan Lucroy said, “two out of three from a really good team and four out of six so far in the homestand is pretty good against two of the teams in the division that are really good.”