The Athletics, long eliminated from contention in the American League West, stand on the cusp of the same mathematical fate in the Wild Card race.
But apparently, no one has bothered to tell this group of scrappy youngsters.
Almost as if a postseason berth lay in the balance, Oakland continues to battle. Losing eight straight wasn’t enough to stymie this team’s heart, so deficits of 2-0, 5-2, 7-3 and 8-7 — in the ninth — at the hands of the AL-leading Astros weren’t about to, Friday night.
Answering each of Houston’s three home runs with bombs of their own, and throwing in a a game-tying blast in the ninth for good measure, the A’s (60-80) dealt the Astros (86-54) a come-from-behind — four times — defeat, 9-8.
Manager Bob Melvin said that this type of scrappiness isn’t a new development for his team:
“We’ve been doing this for awhile, we’ve just been coming up a little short or we give up too many runs, but these guys, offensively, continue to battle the way we saw tonight. It’s been that way for awhile now.”
“When it’s late in the season, and you’re facing teams that are fighting for a playoff spot and you’ve got a young team — just like tonight, we have been grinding all season. With where we are in the standings, it would be easy for guys to just count down the days but nobody has done that.”
Overcoming the Astros on this night meant overcoming former star Josh Reddick, who led the way with a 3-for-3 effort, including a home run (13), driving in four runs and scoring two more. He was also walked twice, making him a baserunner a game-high five times.
Perhaps the former Oakland fan favorite had additional inspiration this time, facing Jharel Cotton, who was a key return in a trade that sent Reddick to Los Angeles at the trade deadline in 2016.
Cotton (ND, 7-10, 5.82 ERA), no doubt pitching through emotional anguish as his home in the British Virgin Islands is being battered by Hurricane Irma, fell behind the eightball almost immediately.
After walking Houston leadoff man George Springer on seven pitches, he left an 0-2 fastball in the heart of the zone for Jose Altuve. The MVP candidate left little doubt, crushing it well into the seats in left for a two-run home run (22) mere minutes after Cotton climbed the mound.
It took the Oakland starter 29 throws to escape the first, and he did so only after a screaming one-hopper deflected off his glove arm and toward Lowrie, who started an inning-ending double play.
Cotton said after the game that his concern over his possibly tipping his pitches grew with this effort:
“I feel like they knew every pitch that was coming, what I was throwing. I’ve got to figure out if I’m tipping or not, I’ve got to figure that out. … You can just tell … I wasn’t fooling nobody today, they were just on everything.”
The skipper added:
“He’s got to get the ball down. And he’s got to keep the ball in the ballpark. He’s got good stuff but his Achilles heel has been the home run.”
Cotton continued to be hit hard, serving up three long balls, and worked even harder, never earning a perfect frame and needing 97 high-stress pitches to get through 5 seven-hit, seven-run innings.
But, through its own long-ball prowess, the Oakland offense rallied back over and over.
The A’s answered Houston’s two-spot in the first with a two-run homer (11) from Matt Chapman in the second. They responded to a three-run Astros third with Matt Joyce a solo homer (23) in their half of the same frame.
And it took a few extra ticks, but Semien offered the biggest rebuttal to a Reddick’s fifth-inning two-run shot, hammering a grand slam (6) in the seventh. Said Semien:
“You always think about that, it’s a four-run game you want to hit a grand slam. … Just a big game for us because we had such a bad week last week.”
The A’s would need one final answer, after Reddick put his Astros ahead again with an RBI double in the ninth off Oakland closer Blake Treinen (W, 2-6, 4.48 ERA).
Finally, putting a kibosh on Houston’s hopes to continue its Oakland ownage — in search of its 11th consecutive win over the A’s — Lowrie sent Semien, who got on via a single and was moved to second with Joyce’s walk, home on what he called a really good read. Added Melvin:
“A lot of times, the worst possible place to get a read on that ball — it’s easy in the dugout and the stands, but when you’re standing on second sometimes it’s a little more difficult.”
Semien’s jump on a bloop almost run down by center fielder Cameron Maybin was just another in a long line of things done perfectly by the A’s in the comeback victory. Said Semien:
“That’s the only thing we know, we can’t just give up.”
Daniel Gossett (3-8, 5.32 ERA) gets the ball in game one of a doubleheader Saturday, making his first start in Oakland since July 28, facing Houston’s Charlie Morton (11-6, 3.87 ERA). Houston native Daniel Mengden (0-1, 10.13 ERA) is slated to make the start in game two, opposed by Brad Peacock (10-2, 3.05 ERA). The two Astro starters will be auditioning for the fourth and final spot in Houston’s postseason rotation.
Manager Bob Melvin said before the game that Jake Smolinski (right shoulder) is on pace to see time in the outfield by mid-September. Smolinski has a single in his only major league at-bat this season after requiring shoulder surgery to repair an injury suffered during Spring Training. … The A’s announced attendance for the games was 12,288 with $1 from each ticket sold being donated to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in Houston through the American Red Cross. … Houston starter Collin McHugh was lifted after warming up for the fourth when the fingernail on his right (throwing) middle finger separated from the skin.