The A’s lost ugly to the Houston Astros Wednesday night, as the Oakland bullpen turned what had been a clean, tight game until the later innings into an 8-1 defeat.

A’s relievers looked like their April selves on Wednesday. The game was close up until the seventh inning, when Deolis Guerra and LHP Adam Kolarek each gave up three runs in the seventh and eighth innings to land the A’s (26-18) nowhere close to another walkoff night. The loss trims Oakland’s lead in the AL West to one-half game.

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Jose Altuve launched the first pitch of the game to left field to quickly get the Astros (25-18) on the board. Frankie Montas was able to get strikeouts from Michael Brantley and Yordan Alvarez but walked Alex Bregman before Yuli Gurriel singled to put runners on the corners. Carlos Correa singled in the Astros second run of the inning, and the Astros led 2-0 after the first.

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

Montas tried to keep his team in the game, and that is exactly what he did. He threw 97 pitches on Wednesday and had 53 after the third but said he felt good. He explained what happened in the first couple innings of the game:

“I think even in the fifth inning, I had a lot of pitches but I was still feeling good. In the first two innings it was just like they were putting some good swings on the ball. The first inning Altuve just came out hot… then two hits after that but besides that I feel like I did pretty good out there.”

Montas (L, 5-3, 4.79 ERA) was able to escape all of his five innings leaving runners on base until he was relieved. He struck out two Astros batters looking in the second but allowed back-to-back singles to Altuve and Brantley who were both left stranded. Gurriel singled in the third and Correa walked, but again they were left stranded. Brantley beat the shift and lined a ball to left in the fourth, the first one-hit inning Montas had all night before a perfect final fifth. He allowed two runs on seven hits, one being a homer. He struck out six, with the first five outs of the game coming on strikeouts.

Montas ran into a lot of traffic but the damage was minimal:

“It was a stressful game but I feel like I was still competing, I was still trying to keep the team in the game and I was just not giving up. Just went out there and tried to do my best.”

Melvin was not upset at all by Montas’ performance and was impressed with his results through five where the Astros left multiple runners stranded:

“To give us five innings and only two runs after what looked like the first couple innings were gunna be pretty dicey. I thought he responded pretty well after he threw over 50 pitches in the first couple innings so some residency in not knuckling under and continuing to try to get deeper in the game for us so we didn’t have to use too much of our bullpen. But at the end of the day, five innings and two runs after the start, pretty good.”

Zack Grienke was sharp all night and had all 1-2-3 innings except the second, when the A’s scored a run. Chad Pinder picked up a two-out single before Sean Murphy doubled to left center and Pinder scored from first to make it 2-1. Elvis Andrus singled to lead off the third but was thrown out in a double play to end the inning.

Pinder wasn’t surprised by Greinke’s lights-out night and made it sound almost as if it was expected:

“He has pitched some really good games against us before… He was lights out today. He was locating fastball was there for him both sides of the plate… he controlled everything today and was working the corners and made some really good pitches so that is not something we are shocked by, it’s Zack Greinke.”

Murphy exited the game after the fourth inning when he took a foul ball to the shoulder. Melvin said Murphy had been pretty beat up from two other pitches but the third one got him good and they wanted to be cautious:

“No concussion at all, no headache or anything like that. There is a chance he could play tomorrow so we will see but just didn’t wanna take any chances after what looked like the third one.”

Guerra relieved Montas in the sixth after 97 pitches, down 2-1. Guerra struck out Kyle Tucker looking, then a 5-4-3 double play ended the inning to keep the Astros scoreless. He came back out for the seventh and was able to retire Altuve and Brantley but walked Bregman on a very close called ball on a full count. Alvarez singled to put two on with two outs, and after seven pitches, Gurriel blasted the eighth pitch off the left field wall. Pinder couldn’t make the catch and the ball rolled towards shallow center for a standing double that made it 4-1.

Pinder broke down what happened on the play that could kept the game at 2-1 headed into the bottom of the seventh:

“I thought I had a beat on it, I don’t know exactly how close I was I just know it was a do or die play on that and I was just trying to go as far as I could to make the play and normally certain situations you may play that off the wall but I knew with that situation, what the score was, where the runners were going for that out was more important and just came up a little short on it.”

Melvin said because the A’s have been in so many close games this season, they lead the majors with four wins after trailing in the seventh inning and it hasn’t allowed everyone to get an opportunity to pitch:

“Certain games we are playing so many close games that we are using kind of our big 3 or 4 in our bullpen a lot and its tough for some of the other guys to be consistent when they haven’t pitched a whole lot. Whether its Kolarek, Guerra has been really good for us and he was one pitch away from getting out of that inning and its still 2-1 game so the big blow was obviously Gurriel’s and that just made it a big different game and after that they added on.”

Sergio Romo relieved Guerra trying to get Correa as the final out of the inning, but Correa hit a line drive to right and Gurriel scored to make it 5-1. All three Astros earned runs belonged to Guerra, who threw 1-2/3 innings and struck out one and walked a batter before Romo allowed one hit in his one-third inning.

Kolarek pitched the eighth inning for Oakland down four runs. Myles Straw led off the inning with a single and landed on second when Martín Maldonado grounded out. Kolarek struck out Altuve for the second out but gave up a single to lefty Brantley which scored Straw from second and it was 6-1. Kolarek walked Bregman to keep the inning alive with two on and two outs, then walked Alvarez to load the bases. Gurriel hit a line drive through a diving Matt Chapman for a double, driving in two runs to make it 8-1. With runners on second and third, Correa flew out to end an ugly eighth inning.

The A’s were down 8-1 headed into the ninth when Luis Barrera entered the game in center field in place of Laureano to make his major league debut. The first ball in play landed right in his glove for the first out of the Reymin Guduan ninth inning. Barrera made a beautiful read on a line drive to right-center, catching the ball over his shoulder for the second out and quickly threw the ball in. Guduan threw a perfect inning and had a big thanks to his new substitutes in the outfield.

Melvin was happy to let Barrera make his MLB debut and was glad he got an at-bat and two nice plays in the outfield under his belt:

“He made two nice plays in the outfield, we talked about him playing all 3 positions, to have to face a lefty in his first at bat that can be a little tough, someone he probably hasn’t seen before so at least now he has his foot wet a little bit and made a couple plays in the outfield and has an at bat under his belt and there are always some nerves in your first game and we will see where we go from here.”

Seth Brown moved to left and Pinder to third base. Chapman and Laureano exited, joining Murphy on the bench. Brown made the final out in the ninth with a beautiful catch against the wall in left, a similar ball to the one Pinder couldn’t get to in the seventh that scored two Astros runs.

Melvin explained what allows Greinke to continuously be successful against the A’s, and really any team:

“He is just really unpredictable. He doesn’t walk guys, he doesn’t put anybody on base. He just stays off the barrel of the bat and today had strikeouts too. His split-change goes straight down, looks just like his fastball probably used some curveballs and a slider and just pitched another really good game against us.”

Grienke (W, 4-1, 3.77 ERA) threw eight innings, allowing one run on four hits. He struck out eight batters and didn’t walk a single batter. Kent Emanue relieved Grienke for the ninth, striking out an unhappy Mark Canha looking before pinch-hitter Tony Kemp reached on an error by gold glove third baseman Bregman playing in the shortstop position due to the shift. Barrera got his first at bat as a major leaguer after making the first two outs in the top of the ninth, striking out on a half-swing for the second out.

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LHP Cole Irvin (3-4, 3.02 ERA) faces Astros righty Luis García (1-3, 3.38 ERA) on Thursday in the final game of the series. Each team is fighting for the series win, first pitch set for 12:37 p.m.

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