OAKLAND -- In the wake of a disheartening, 10-inning 5-4 loss, A’s first baseman Ike Davis was left pondering the paths of two fly balls -- Brett Lawrie’s home run to center field in the fifth inning, and Coco Crisp’s flyout to right field in the ninth.
"I don’t know how that thing went so far," Davis said, referencing Lawrie’s homer, "and then Coco’s didn’t carry at all."
Lawrie’s ball was crushed, a no-doubt shot to straightaway center that bounced off of the bottom rim of the suite windows above the high green façade beyond the 405-foot wall. It prompted manager Bob Melvin to greet Lawrie, when he returned to the dugout, with one word that was easily recognizable on the A’s TV broadcast: "Wow."
It also put the A’s up 2-1 over the Houston Astros, a lead they held behind Aaron Brooks -- the right-hander making his third major-league start and second for the A’s -- until the eighth inning. That’s when Oakland’s bullpen took over and allowed three runs including a two-run, go-ahead homer surrendered by Fernando Rodriguez to Astros phenom Carlos Correa.
But down 4-2 going to the ninth, the A’s rallied against Houston closer Luke Gregerson -- the former A’s right-hander -- and aided by an error from another former A in infielder Jed Lowrie, they tied the game with two outs as Billy Burns beat out a double-play ball with the bases loaded.
That brought up Crisp, with runners on first and third, still looking for his first RBI of the season in Game 110. Crisp got a 2-1 fastball up and lashed it to right field with backspin.
"I’ve seen Coco hit that same ball many times, and at least it gets off the wall," manager Bob Melvin said after the game. "It had a great sound. There was no doubt in my mind it was at least off the wall."
"I thought it was a homer for sure," Davis said. "But this park is weird sometimes."
And as surely as Lawrie’s homer knifed through a damp Oakland night -- which actually saw short bouts of rain in the middle innings -- Crisp’s fly ball lost steam and died in the glove of Colby Rasmus at the edge of the warning track. Crisp, circling first base, let out a scream and tossed his helmet to the ground. Crisp’s words, like Melvin’s reaction to the Lawrie homer, were readable -- but not to be transcribed.
"Then we go back out there," Melvin said, "and come up a little short."
Astros sparkplug Jose Altuve led off the 10th with a single against Edward Mujica -- his third hit of the night -- stole second base for the second time, and scored with two outs when Lowrie, after falling behind 0-2, atoned for his earlier error by working the count back to 3-2 and lining an outside fastball to left field for an RBI double.
It gave the A’s their third deficit of the game, and this time they did not rally. After Josh Reddick’s leadoff single in the 10th, Billy Butler bounced into a double play, and Stephen Vogt’s sharp grounder was snagged by Altuve, who popped up and threw Vogt out to end the game. It handed the A’s another one-run loss, and lowered their majors-worst record in one-run games to 11-26.
"It’s tough," Melvin said. "We’ve lost many games like that this year, and it comes down to a bunch of little things … We’ve done that a lot this year."
* Another thing the A’s have done a lot this season: Waste a good starting pitching effort. Brooks allowed one run over seven innings, scattering four hits and striking out seven, as his line in two Oakland starts now reads: 14 1/3 innings, nine hits, two runs, one walk, 12 strikeouts.
"He’s been pitching lights-out," Davis said of Brooks, whom the A’s received in the Ben Zobrist trade with Kansas City. "I can’t really tell from first base what his ball is doing, but he’s keeping hitters off-balance and getting a lot of ground balls, and he’s pumping strikes. Can’t ask for more than that."
The run Brooks allowed came in the first inning, and it was arguably preventable. After Carlos Gomez singled with one out, Correa dumped a soft single into left field in front of Crisp, who played it conservatively. Gomez, who plays aggressively, watched Crisp as he rounded second base and took off for third, sliding in ahead of Crisp’s throw. It allowed Gomez to be in position to score when Lowrie then flied out to right field.
From there, Brooks allowed just two more hits, and completed the seventh inning on 108 pitches. Melvin said Brooks was "on fumes there at the end," but it wasn’t apparent -- he threw a 93 mph fastball past Jason Castro for strike three on his final pitch of the game. Afterward, Brooks said he "felt fine" pitching into the seventh.
"He pitched great, that’s all you can ask of him at that point," Melvin said. "It would’ve been nice to reward him."
The A’s starting rotation now has a collective 3.11 ERA, the lowest figure in the A.L. and tied with the Dodgers for second-lowest in the majors. Yet their record of 14 games under .500 points to those outings, too often, being squandered. Brooks took it in stride.
"I think just being able to throw first-pitch strikes with any pitch was huge," Brooks said. "They’re (the Astros) an aggressive team, and for them not to be able to sit on any certain pitch definitely.
"Personally it’s nothing that I would change that I could comment on, other than that we lost the game, and that was the biggest part."
* Correa, the 20-year-old Astros shortstop, has exploded onto the scene since debuting on June 8, and the A’s were well aware of his power before the eighth inning Friday. With a base open and Altuve on second, Rodriguez said he was trying to stay away from Correa with a fastball, and simply missed.
"I just totally missed my spot," Rodriguez said. "It’s a pitch that was right down the middle, up and in, pretty much anybody could’ve hit it out.
"Off the bat, I was expecting the worst. And it was."
The A’s lost for the sixth time when leading after the seventh inning. For Rodriguez, it was the first home run he has allowed in an A’s uniform in 43 appearances between this season and last.
For Correa, it was his eighth home run in 20 games since the All-Star Break and his 14th in 51 games since being called up. That leads all A.L. shortstops, and puts him tied for third among MLB shortstops behind Brandon Crawford (19) and Jhonny Peralta (16).
* The A’s hit two homers Friday -- Lawrie’s and a second-inning blast by Vogt, also to straightaway center. Vogt’s was just his second home run in 36 games since the All-Star Break, after he hit 13 in his first 66 games of the season. He is just 3-for-38 over his last 12 games, but he also drew a walk Friday and it looks like his at-bats are getting better.
Lawrie’s shot ricocheted off where Yoenis Cespedes used to hit home runs during batting practice. Melvin’s take: "That ball was crushed. He has the power to do that -- you watch him take BP, and you know how athletic and strong he is. Certainly at the time, it was a good feeling for us."
* Lawrie’s counterpart at third Friday night, Lowrie, made a diving play to rob Butler of a hit to end the eighth inning. But his throw to second on a potential double play with no outs in the ninth was way off-line and gave the A’s men at first and third, both of whom eventually scored.
Lowrie atoned with his at-bat in the 10th. He fell behind 0-2 on a swingthrough and a foul ball, but took three straight fastballs from Mujica out of the zone, fouled off another and then followed an outside fastball to left field for the game-winning hit. Mujica opted not to throw a single off-speed pitch in the at-bat.
"You’ve got to give him credit to string out the at-bat like that," Melvin said. "At 0-2 you have a lot of different ways you’re trying to get him out, but he laid off some pitches and got it to 3-2 and got a ball over the plate he could handle."
* Up next is the marquee pitching matchup of the series, a showdown between Cy Young candidates Sonny Gray (11-4, 2.12) and Dallas Keuchel (13-5, 2.35). Gray leads the A.L. in WHIP and opponents’ average and is second in ERA. Keuchel is tied for the most wins in the league and ranks second in WHIP and third in ERA. First pitch at 7:05 p.m.