Tommy Milone pitched up to the gold standard that has become the norm for the Oakland Athletics‘ pitching staff, and Josh Reddick hit a two-run shot in the eighth inning to give the A’s a 4-3 win against the Houston Astros Monday night.
Early on it looked like the A’s were destined to suffer their first loss of the year against Houston, who sit in last place in the AL West by a healthy 13 games, but Milone shook off a couple unearned runs to keep the A’s in the game and the offense woke up as the game went as Oakland improved to 20-11 in one-run games this year.
Oakland’s defense was off from the start, and Derek Norris was charged with the first error of the night trying to throw out Jose Altuve on a steal attempt in the top of the first that would set the tone for a forgettable night for Oakland’s position players.
They added two more mishaps in the second, and although Josh Donaldson wasn’t officially charged with an error in the immediate aftermath, the play was there to be made as Justin Maxwell’s grounder got past him for a double in the first at-bat of the inning. Donaldson would get the error upon later review.
Maxwell proceeded to steal third, and he scored when Jed Lowrie overthrew first on a ground ball by J.D. Martinez, giving Houston a 1-0 lead. To be fair, it wasn’t all bad as Lowrie made a nice diving play on a grounder for the final out of the inning, preceded by a great diving catch by Reddick, so there were some bright spots.
But the third featured more of the same ugly play that characterized the first two frames. Jonathan Villar laid down a bunt in his first Major League at-bat and legged out a single to lead things off, and he stole second as the throw by Norris was about a half-second late. When Altuve popped out and Jason Castro struck out in the next two plate appearances, it looked as if the A’s would get through the inning unscathed.
Former Athletic Chris Carter made sure that wouldn’t be the case, however, when he smacked a single through the left side of the infield to make it 2-0.
Oakland then committed their third error of the night when Maxwell hit a pop fly to shallow right center, which looked as if it’d be an easy play for Grant Green. Coco Crisp and Reddick both converged on the play, and whether they called him off or he backed off hearing them in pursuit, the result was a dropped ball that should have been out number three, and Carter scored easily to give Houston a 3-0 lead.
All the while the offense wasn’t much better. Astros starter Dallas Keuchel gave up five hits and four walks, but the A’s couldn’t get the big hit to capitalize on their opportunities, going 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position against the left-hander.
There were a few close calls in the middle innings, though. Grant Green nearly put the A’s back in it with a well-hit ball in the fourth with men on first and third, but Brandon Barnes made a great running catch to rob him of at least one RBI, but more likely two. In the fifth, Chris Young hit a two-out triple, but Jed Lowrie struck out looking to strand the Houston native, who always seems to play well in his hometown in front of friends and family.
And yet the A’s still clawed their way back in to the game despite the early struggles. Green would get them on the board in the sixth with a sacrifice fly in the sixth to the same part of the ballpark as his previous at-bat, and Chris Young put Oakland within a run with a solo shot to left in the seventh off of former A’s reliever Travis Blackley.
After six innings of work, Milone took a seat in the dugout, having given up only five hits with one earned run, five strikeouts and four walks. Ryan Cook pitched a three-up, three-down seventh inning, and in the eighth, Josh Reddick provided the big play the A’s couldn’t get earlier in the game.
Following a Nate Freiman single, Reddick battled against Houston reliever Wesley Wright, and on the sixth pitch of the at-bat he connected on a fastball and sent it into the right field bleachers to give Oakland a 4-3 lead. It was the fifth homer of the year for the big swinging Reddick, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
There were still two chances for the Astros to come back, and Sean Doolittle walked Altuve to lead off the bottom of the eighth. Things got more interesting than they needed to be when Altuve stole second — the fourth stolen base of the night against Norris — on a ball in the dirt.
But Doolittle struck out Castro in the next at-bat, and when Altuve tried to take third on the left-hander’s first move on a pitch Carter, he was caught on the pickoff for the second out of the inning, and Carter’s strikeout essentially wrapped things up as the ninth was a mere formality with Grant Balfour on the mound.
Balfour naturally came in and got his 26th save of the year, and the A’s came out on top in the first of a three-game series despite a very rough first few innings. Oakland remains three games up on the Rangers in the AL West standings, and they still haven’t lost this season against Houston, which bodes well for their playoff chances.
The series continues tomorrow night at 5:05 PST, with Jarrod Parker taking the hill against Jarred Cosart for the Astros.