Even the hottest team in baseball can have a bad day.
For the A’s, things went wrong from the first pitch Wednesday and when the afternoon was complete Oakland no longer shared first place in the American League West.
Edwin Jackson surrendered a home run to Shin-Soo Choo on the first pitch and things never got much better for the A’s, who lost 4-2 to the Texas Rangers in front of 13,139 fans on the final day of what was otherwise a sparkling homestand.
Now the A’s (71-56) hit the road, where they have been comfortable all season.
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They play at Minnesota on Thursday night to open a seven-game road trip that also includes three at Houston. Oakland, 37-25 on the road this season, is seven games into a stretch of 20 straight days with a game.
Catcher Jonathan Lucroy said home or road doesn’t matter to this team.
“We have a built-in advantage here because it’s a graveyard and teams don’t like playing here. It’s true, I’m just telling you,” he said. “When we go on the road, all of a sudden our power really shows up. I know teams don’t like it when we come to town.”
Oakland has hit 104 of its 171 home runs on the road.
Manager Bob Melvin has no worries about how his team will respond.
“For me it was more of a concern just to play better at home,” he said. “We’ve played well on the road – we hit homers. I don’t think anybody’s worried about going out on the road.”
Even in defeat, the A’s threw a scare into the Rangers. Down 4-0 through six innings, the A’s scored single runs in the seventh and eighth and then loaded the bases loaded in the ninth. They’ve had 21 come-from-behind victories since mid-June — a full season’s worth for many teams — but the 22nd will come another day. Texas reliever Jose Leclerc struck out Nick Martini to end the game.
“We battle,” Jackson said. “This team doesn’t give in. If you ask around the league, the word is out: We’re not going to cave in. We’re going to grind it out to the last out.”
Melvin had no complaints after a nine-game homestand in which the A’s took two of three each from Seattle, Houston and Texas.
The A’s began the day tied for first in the division with the World Series champions, but the Astros moved back into sole possession of the top spot after a 10-7 win over the Mariners. Oakland remains 4 1/2 games ahead of Seattle for the second wild-card spot.
“If you look at the homestand and before you play it say you’re going to win every series, you’ve got to take it,” Melvin said.
The loss was just the 15th in 57 games since June 15 for the A’s, who are 16-1-2 in their past 19 series.
“If we win two out of three the rest of the year, we’re winning the World Series,” Lucroy said. “I try to keep that perspective with these guys. We’re expecting to win every game, but we’re not going to be perfect.”
Jackson, who was 4-2 with a 2.58 earned run average in 10 starts since being signed as a free agent by Oakland in late June, was gone by the fifth inning, trailing 4-0.
“It was an off day today, clearly. I wasn’t able to execute pitches with two strikes,” said Jackson, who also gave up a fourth-inning home run to Joey Gallo, his 33rd of the season.
The A’s beat the Rangers 9-0 and 6-0 to open this series, but was stifled by Texas left-hander Mike Minor, who allowed just one hit through six innings and faced the minimum 18 batters, thanks to a pair of double plays.
The A’s didn’t got a runner past first base until reliever Cory Gearrin came on in the seventh. After retiring the first two batters, Gearrin walked Matt Chapman and hit Khris Davis with a pitch. Stephen Piscotty then doubled down the right-field line, scoring Chapman and prompting Rangers manager Jeff Banister to bring in left-hander Alex Claudio.
Matt Olson was 4 for 6 lifetime against Claudio, but struck out to end the rally.
The A’s cut it to 4-2 in the eighth when Pinder singled off reliever Chris Martin, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Jed Lowrie’s pinch-hit double to right.
The A’s final bid died in the ninth, ended by the man who started it. Leclerc walked Chapman, wild-pitched him to third, then walked Olson and hit Pinder with a pitch to bring Martini to the plate with two outs.