In the sixth inning, Josh Donaldson ambushed Philip Humber as he unloaded on a first-pitch breaking ball that didn’t quite break.
“I only had one other at-bat against the guy and he threw me a first pitch breaking ball and I hit it back to the pitcher,” said Donaldson after the game. “So, I had a pretty good idea I was going to get something off-speed right there.”
The ball landed in the left field bleachers as Donaldson tallied home run number 21 and the Oakland A’s opened up a 7-4 lead. The club would end up topping the Houston Astros 7-5 as Oakland has now won nine of 12 games. The team also sits alone in first place in the AL West with a record of 81-60 (.574).
“I hadn’t really thought about that,” joked manger Bob Melvin after the game when asked by reporters how it felt to be back on top. “I’ll tell you tomorrow.”
A.J. Griffin collected a third straight win as he improved to 13-9 with a 3.91 ERA on the season. The righty went six inning and allowed four runs while ripping off nine strikeouts, which ties a career-high.
Dallas Keuchel meanwhile lasted 3.1 innings on the night, and allowed five runs on 10 hits while walking a pair and striking out three. The lefty has’t won since July 27, and the A’s got to Keuchel early with a few well-placed grounders and some small ball in the second.
With one out and runners on first and third, Chris Young came to the plate and smashed a bunt past the pitcher as the A’s opened up a 1-0 lead. In the third, Griffin ran into a little trouble as the Astros jumped out to a 3-1 advantage. Jose Villar hooked a double into the corner in left field before Jose Altuve drove him in with a single to right. Houston then plated two more runs as Matt Dominguez clubbed a single to left.
“They got a few decent hits, but I felt like I was sticking to my game plan, and doing my thing,” said Griffin. “I just wanted to go out there and keep us in the ball game and do everything I could to do that”
In the bottom of the third, the A’s responded immediately by taking advantage of some sloppy defense by the Astros. Josh Donaldson drilled a double over the head of Brandon Barnes as the Houston center fielder took a poor route on the smash. Jed Lowrie then swatted double number 42 of the season to left to pull Oakland back to 3-2. The two-base hit gives Lowrie 19 since the All-Star Break, the most in all of baseball.
Later in the inning, Nate Freiman recorded his second hit of the night off the left-hander as the A’s evened up the score. The Rule 5 Draft pick is now hitting .319 (43-for-135) off lefties in his rookie season. Griffin again worked into trouble in the fourth. Entering the night, he had a 1.71 ERA in innings one through three and a 6.53 ERA from the fourth to the sixth. With runners on second and third and one out, the Astros bunted their way back in front. Brandon Moss fielded the bunt, but Alberto Callaspo was unable to cover first in time.
Oakland took back the lead in the bottom of the inning, though, as Yoenis Cespedes chopped a slow ground ball to shortstop and Josh Donaldson raced home from third.
“It’s really comforting having the great offense that we have here,” noted Griffin. “Just grinding out at-bats, making the other pitcher throw a lot of pitches. Just putting together good at-bats. It’s a fun thing to watch.”
It was an odd scene in the sixth when Griffin hit Barnes with a pitch. The umpire ruled Barnes had leaned into the pitch, and didn’t award him first base. Barnes would ultimately get ejected and Griffin would reel off his eighth and ninth strikeouts.
“Early on he was a little bit spotty, but then really the last couple of innings he did his best work no question,” said Melvin. “In a game when you’d like to get him through six innings, and only use three guys out of the bullpen, it’s nice.”
To lead off the sixth Coco Crisp drove a standup triple into the gap in right-center field, and then Donaldson delivered the crucial two-run shot to left to give the A’s a 7-4 lead.
“When you look at the outcome, the home run was paramount,” commented Melvin.
The A’s turned to Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour to lock down the win. In the process the trio added six strikeouts to give the staff 15 on the night. However, as has been the pattern recently, Balfour struggled in the ninth.
“It was a little shaky,” said Melvin. “You’ve got to look at the full body of work. This isn’t his best stretch right now, and we’ll monitor that.”
The A’s also utilized all three of their catchers. Derek Norris, who just returned from the DL got the start and beat out an infield single in his first at-bat. Stephen Vogt pinch hit in the seventh, and then Suzuki entered as Balfour’s personal catcher in the ninth. So who starts tomorrow against the lefty?
“One of the three.” Melvin joked after the game.
With first pitch scheduled for 1:05 p.m., Dan Straily (8-7, 4.38 ERA) takes the hill for the A’s in game three of the series. The right-hander picked up the win in his most recent outing as Oakland downed the Texas Rangers 4-2, and Straily worked five innings allowing two runs. In his only start ever against the Astros in April, the righty earned the win as he went 6.2 innings and allowed two runs.
The Astros will send out left-hander Brett Oberholtzer (4-1, 2.79 ERA). The rookie, who has made just six starts in his career, has never faced the A’s.