San Francisco Giants

A’s hope rally gets them back on track

It’s a scene that has played out often at Coliseum in recent years, including eight previous times this season, but as the A’s rushed to mob Jed Lowrie near second base following his game-winning single Saturday, the celebration seemed a little more exuberant, the crowd’s reaction a little louder, the situation a little more urgent.

Down 3-1 in the ninth following eight innings of more offensive futility, the A’s rallied for a 4-3 win on Josh Reddick’s two-run double off Houston Astros closer Chad Qualls and Lowrie’s walk-off single, which brought Reddick home with the winning run on a headfirst dive. The A’s sprinted from their dugout to engulf Lowrie, who emerged from the scrum with his jersey ripped off and his helmet nowhere to be seen.

The comeback pulled the A’s from the brink of an eighth loss in nine games, and ensured they would not lose further ground in an American League West race that may be slipping away. The A’s began the day a season-high six games behind the first-place Los Angeles Angels, and for the first eight innings managed just one run against Houston right-hander Scott Feldman, a pitcher they’d faced three times already this season, winning all three games.

“I think we needed a win kind of like this,” said A’s starter Scott Kazmir. “It seemed like the past couple days, it’s something where you could look at everyone in this clubhouse – we want this real bad, but I think that there was a couple games where the energy level just wasn’t there.

“It’s to the point where we’ve just got to dig deep and finish strong. And I feel like a win like this is something that can kick-start us and just give us that little push that we need.”

That seemed to be the feeling, or at least the hope, after Lowrie’s first walk-off hit in an A’s uniform. It was also the team’s first walk-off win since Aug. 4, when they were still in first place. Since Aug. 9, the A’s are 8-17, matching the majors’ worst record over that span, and entered Saturday with a mere two-game lead over Seattle for the top wild-card spot in the American League.

“We’ve won many games like that this year, so hopefully they remember the feeling,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “It hasn’t been a great feeling. We haven’t looked like we’ve had the fight that we normally do, not playing very well all the way around. So hopefully a game like that can spur something.”

Having held the A’s to one run on five hits over the first eight innings, Feldman received a chance to complete the game with Qualls warming up in the Astros’ bullpen in the ninth. Josh Donaldson led off the inning with a single, his first hit in 16 at-bats, and after Adam Dunn flew out, Derek Norris won an eight-pitch at-bat with a single up the middle that finally knocked Feldman out of the game.

Houston turned to Qualls, the right-hander who had already blown three save chances against the A’s this season. The first batter he faced was Reddick, who drove a fastball off the center-field wall for a double that tied the score. Lowrie then hit a chopper that snuck past shortstop Jonathan Villar into left field.

Reddick had to pause initially while the ball passed in front of him, then slipped slightly as he rounded third base. But A’s third-base coach Mike Gallego sent him anyway, and Reddick dove home just ahead of the throw from Alex Presley. “I made it look a lot harder than it was,” Reddick said. “But it don’t matter how you do it, as long as you cross the plate before the ball gets there.”

Still, especially with the Astros’ outfielders playing shallow, it was an aggressive call by Gallego, who said his decision to send Reddick was fueled by several factors. For one, he said, Presley had to move a ways to his left to field the ball. And Gallego figured the field would slow the ball down some, given its condition following the Raiders’ last preseason game.

The rally took Kazmir off the hook for a hard-luck loss, after the left-hander allowed just three hits but departed in the seventh with one out, the bases loaded and the A’s trailing, 2-1.

“The way we’ve been playing, it’s been ugly,” Reddick said. “We’ve had very few games where we’ve been fighting back. … So a comeback like this, hopefully it’s something that gets us going, sparks a little fire under our tail ends and gets us going because that’s what we need right now.”

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