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A’s can’t slow down Astros, drop second straight to open season

The A’s can’t seem to get off to a good start against their division rivals. Oakland was able to plate more runs Friday night, but Houston pulled away every time, outscoring the A’s 9-5 to send Oakland to an 0-2 start.

The A’s seemed out of the game until Chad Pinder hit a two-run homer to trim the A’s deficit to 6-4 in the seventh. But when Jake Diekman took the mound in the ninth, the Astros piled on three more runs.

Five of the earned runs on the night belonged to LHP Jesús Luzardo (L 0-1, 9.00 ERA) who made his first start of the 2021 season going five full innings. He made it clear the five earned runs had nothing to do with who was behind the plate to call the game:

“I found out when I got to the field… [ Murphy scratched from lineup] Garcia, I threw to him in spring. I love the way he catches. I love him behind the plate so we had a game plan, we executed it for the most part. A couple mistakes here and there but he called a great game back there.”

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the A’s clubhouse at the Oakland Coliseum.

Sean Murphy took an 84-mph sinker to the wrist on Opening Night and couldn’t start behind the plate for his buddy Luzardo’s first start of the 2021 season. Luzardo started with Aramis Garcia in the battery and it didn’t go well. Luzardo was able to keep the Astros scoreless in the first two innings despite giving up three hits. He smelled trouble in the third and it was clear the Astros knew what to expect their second time around.

Luzardo explained what happened the second time around the order:

“The first time around, the fastball worked really well. Starting to work fastballs up, that is something we are working on, four-seams up is starting to become a trend. So second time around I started doing it, I guess they were prepared for that. I felt like I made good pitches and they made some adjustments.”

Jose Altuve lead off with a walk then Michael Brantley doubled to right-center. Ramon Laureano attempted to make a diving catch but bobbled the ball. Ka’ai Tom, who made his MLB fielding debut in right, grabbed the ball and made a beautiful throw to Elvis Andrus at second who clearly missed the tag because manager Bob Melvin didn’t challenge the call on a throw that arrived steps before Brantley. Alex Bregman followed and swung at the first pitch he saw, a 95-mph fastball to clear the bases with a three-run homer for a 3-0 lead.

Yuli Gurriel led off the fourth with a solo homer to make it 4-0. Altuve singled with two outs and Brantley followed with a two-out RBI double which made it 5-0. Luzardo threw 92 pitches in his first start where he gave up eight hits, two being homers, struck out eight and walked a batter. He exited the game down 5-2.

The A’s had their first hit of the game in the fourth, a Mark Canha single. Laureano tripled off the wall to give the A’s their first run of the night. Matt Olson was hit by a 76-mph knuckle-curve to put runners on the corners with no outs and heart of the order up. Matt Chapman struck out before DH Mitch Moreland sacrificed to bring in Laureano to make it 5-2.

Houston starter Cristian Javier was relieved after 3-2/3 innings where he allowed two runs off three hits, struck out four and hit one batter, which all happened in his final fourth inning. The A’s couldn’t get another run until Pinder entered the game. Pinder pinch-hit for Tom in the seventh and smashed a two-run homer to left to make it 6-4 facing Astros LHP Brooks Raley.

Canha landed on first after being hit by a pitch and Tony Kemp pinch hit for Laureano, who injured his left hand on a head-first slide into first trying to reach on an infield single the inning prior. Kemp struck out looking on a full count to end the two-run inning in his first at bat of 2021.

Melvin was happy to see more A’s hits but knows the team needs to step it up when playing a team like the Astros who were scoring in multiple inning games:

“We are obviously going to have to hit. When you play these guys you’re gunna have to score some runs. It was good that we got back in the game. We were one run away over there for a little while and then it got away from us again in the ninth. You know when these guys are swinging the bats well you’re going to have to score some runs and your going to have to do it in multiple innings. After a real slow night last night, I thought we swung the bat a little bit better tonight.”

Burch Smith relieved Luzardo in the sixth and thanks to an Andrus double play, the Astros were held scoreless until a two-out Kyle Tucker sacrifice fly in the seventh made it 6-2. Sergio Romo made his Oakland debut in the eighth trying to keep the deficit to 6-4 and did exactly that. A Jed Lowrie double play saved Romo who gave up a double then a single to start the eighth.

Altuve led off the ninth against Diekman with his third single of the game, then Brantley doubled on a line drive to right and the A’s intentionally walked Bregman to load the bases. With no outs and the defense in, Tucker hit a hard ground ball to Andrus who couldn’t get in front of it and it slowly rolled to center. Two runs scored to make it 8-5 with no outs. Correa struck out for the third time of the night before an Olson error brought in the Astros ninth and final run of the night.

Diekman allowed more runs in his 2021 debut than he did in the entire 2020 shortened season and Melvin touched on how tough of a lineup the Astros have and how he tried to get Diekman out of the situation with minimal damage. Altuve finished the night reaching in all five at-bats, with three singles and a walk, and Brantley was 3-for-5 and is currently batting .700.

Melvin explained the inning from his perspective:

“Altuve is obviously hot and the guy behind him is even hotter. Now your on the run a little bit with second and third we got to put Bregman, I am doing the best I can to try to put Bregman on to put a force on home. He got the ground ball just out of Elvis’s reach a little bit. I don’t know he made too many bad pitches, maybe a few but the way Altuve and Brantley are swinging the bat right now, its almost like you have to be perfect.”

Olson led off the eighth with a double to left field on a ball that rolled off Brantley’s diving glove. Chapman advanced Olson to third when he grounded out to second and Stephen Piscotty had one job, make contact, and that is exactly what he did to bring in Olson to make it 6-5 with two outs in the eighth.

Lowrie followed with a blooper that landed near the first base line in shallow right to keep the inning alive, but was left stranded. Ryan Pressly pitched the ninth for the Astros and the game was over before you knew it.

Up Next

LHP Cole Irvin (0-1, 17.18 ERA in 2020) will make his Oakland A’s debut on Saturday for the third game of the four-game series. Irvin battled his way to earn the fifth spot in the rotation over A.J Puk and Daulton Jefferies. Irvin told the media Friday he hopes his job is “an easy pass of the baton” to veteran Mike Fiers when he is cleared from the IL. The Astros will start RHP Lance McCullers Jr. (3-3, 3.93 ERA in 2020). First pitch is set for 1:07 p.m. in Oakland.

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