Behind a stellar outing from Dan Straily (9-7, 4.15 ERA), and a pair of bombs from Yoenis Cespedes and Jed Lowrie, the Oakland A’s knocked off the Houston Astros 2-1.
The A’s are now a season-high 22-games over .500 as they improve to 82-60 (.577) and hold a one-game lead over the Texas Rangers, who take on the Los Angeles Angels at 6:05p.m. at Angel Stadium.
Straily, who entered the game having won his last two starts, cruised through seven innings of work. The rookie held the Astros scoreless while striking out seven and allowing just two hits.
“Boy. That might be about as good as we’ve seen him,” said manager Bob Melvin after the game. “When he’s getting ahead he’s a tough customer to deal with.”
“That was awesome,” added reliever Sean Doolittle. “He was in control all day long. That was a really big start.”
Kurt Suzuki has been behind the plate for each of Straily’s last three starts, which have all resulted in wins.
“I feel confident with all three of out catchers,” said Straily. However, it clearly hasn’t hurt Straily to have the veteran backstop calling his games, and blocking his breaking balls. “The first time he caught me he told me ‘If I tell you to throw it in the dirt and I don’t block it, that’s on me completely. You do your part, I’ll do mine.’ It’s a team effort.”
Brett Oberholtzer (4-2, 2.65 ERA), who made the start for the Astros, was also sharp, but not quite as sharp as Straily. He worked six innings, and struck out five while scattering six hits.
In the third inning, Straily got a boost from Yoenis Cespedes. The left fielder tossed out Jonathan Villar at second base as the Houston shortstop made an ill-advised attempt to leg out a double. The A’s then ran themselves out of the inning in the bottom half of third. Kurt Suzuki got hung up between third base and home after expecting the throw to go to second.
“It ended up just being a bad base running play for us,” said Melvin. Suzuki described the botched play as a “debacle.”
In the fourth inning, the A’s got on the board as Cespedes stroked home run number 22 into the seats in left field. The powerful left fielder was so far out in front of the pitch that at first it looked as though he’d popped it up.
“He’s having a couple of good days, and then an off day,” said Melvin. “Certainly we need to string some good games together, and really get on a roll, and we’re going to be much better for it. We all know what he has to offer when he gets hot. We haven’t seen a real hot streak out of him. It would be a good time for it.”
The A’s doubled their lead in the seventh on a long home run to center field off the bat of Jed Lowrie. The shot was number 11 for the shortstop, who was filling in for usual leadoff man Coco Crisp, who was taking a planned day off. The table-setter has eight home runs in his last 16 games.
“We have an abundance of guys who can hit home runs,” said Melvin. “It seems like we’re hitting our stride a little bit as far as the long ball goes, but you don’t want to just rely on the long ball. You have to be able to win games with situational at-bats.”
In the eighth inning, the Astros got the tying run as close as second base, but Brandon Barnes was picked off by Doolittle as he tried to steal third. The Houston center fielder had been picked off stealing second base as well, but beat the throw to the bag. Barnes is now 11-for-22 on stolen base attempts.
“I really couldn’t believe he tried to go again,” said Suzuki. The catcher explained that the pickoff had been called by Melvin and bench coach Chip Hale. “Good for us,” joked Suzuki.
Doolittle reemerged for the ninth as he locked down his first save of the season.
“It feels good because Brett [Anderson] has two, and now I’m almost going to catch him. Because he’s been in the bullpen for like a week.”
The lefty, who was filling in for Grant Balfour who was unavailable, has also now turned in five straight outings without surrendering a run.
“I had some inner rage,” said Doolittle. “Now I know why Balfour yells at himself. It’s a different beast trying to go out there and get a save, but it was a rush for sure. “
In the final game of the series, the A’s send out Bartolo Colon (14-6, 2.90 ERA) who has been stalled out on 14 wins since July 26. The Astros hung Colon with the loss back on August 13 at the O.Co Coliseum as the 40-year-old starter allowed five runs on seven hits over four innings.
Colon will be opposed by Paul Clemens (4-4, 5.91 ERA) who has made just two starts. The 25-year-old right-hander also has made 32 appearances out of the bullpen for Houston, including a 5.1 inning-shutout effort against the A’s back in April.