It was a back-and-forth affair throughout Tuesday night’s contest between the Oakland Athletics and the Houston Astros, and the home team got the last laugh as Grant Balfour blew his first save of 2013, leading to a 5-4 win for Houston in the bottom of the ninth.
It was the first win against the A’s this season for the Astros, bringing their record against the AL West leaders to 1-10. The subpar defense that was prevalent in last night’s game reared its ugly head again tonight for Oakland, and it cost them in what should’ve been another late inning win.
Brandon Moss had hit a tie-breaking two-run homer in the eighth, and the A’s turned the ball over to their normally reliable relievers to finish things off.
Sean Doolittle was able to breeze through the bottom of the eighth, but in a series that has featured some poor play all the way around, Grant Balfour was the latest character to play a starring role in the comedy of errors (the A’s had three of them for the second consecutive game), and it was an uncharacteristic bad outing for the All-Star closer that resulted in his first blown save of the season.
Justin Maxwell led off the inning with a chopper back to Balfour, and it bounced off the right-hander’s glove, and although he still had a chance to get the out at first, the throw from his knees was way off target and bounced to the right of Moss and into foul territory, allowing Maxwell to advance to second.
That error came back to haunt him as Matt Dominguez came back from an 0-2 count to knock a high fastball out of the park and tie the game. That brought Balfour’s streak of successful consecutive saves to an end at 44 games, an all-time Oakland A’s record, and his distinction of being the only closer in baseball without a blown save ended in the worst way possible as his off-night led to an eventual 5-4 loss thanks to another Oakland error.
Marc Krauss hit a ball to the right field corner that Reddick just got to for the first out of the inning, but Balfour gave up a double to Villar in the next at-bat, followed by a walk to Altuve.
Then Jason Castro came to the plate, and after getting behind in the count 2-0, Balfour bounced a ball in the dirt, and it got away from Derek Norris — who had been put in the game for John Jaso apparently because the starter took a foul tip off the helmet earlier — and while he initially had the runners caught trying to steal, he threw to first in an attempt to pick off Altuve. It was too low for Moss to field cleanly, and it got past him and into right field, allowing Villar to score from second and complete the comeback for the Astros:
Neither starting pitcher was at their best to start off the game, and Oakland put one run on the board in the first, running right-hander Jarred Cosart up to 30 pitches in the process. The score came courtesy of a fielding error at third by Matt Dominguez off of a ground ball from Brandon Moss. That allowed Jed Lowrie to score from second with two outs, and they might’ve had one more had John Jaso been at third, however he was thrown on a previous hit to left field by Josh Donaldson as he rounded the base a little too far and was tagged out returning to the bag.
The lead didn’t last long as Parker also got touched up a bit in the opening frame, giving up hits to the first three batters he faced. Leadoff man Jonathan Villar hit a double to right on the second pitch he saw, and Jose Altuve put runners at the corners when Donaldson couldn’t corral his hard hit line drive. An RBI single from Jason Castro came next, and Parker looked like he’d be in for a long night.
He responded by retiring the next three batters he faced, and he didn’t allow another hit until the sixth. After a quiet second inning by both teams, the A’s loaded the bases in the third, but they could only got one run out of the opportunity as Moss hit into an inning-ending double play that brought Coco Crisp across the plate from third. It was a slow roller that was fielded late by Altuve, which jammed up Donaldson in the basepath. Altuve went to first to get the force out, and Donaldson was caught in a pickle and subsequently tagged out for the 4-3-6-3 double play.
Parker had given up a walk in the second and he hit Brett Wallace with a pitch in the fourth, but the Astros didn’t put together a rally until the bottom of the fifth, which was made possible by Parker overthrowing first on a short grounder from Brandon Barnes in the opening at-bat, putting a man on second when it should’ve been an easy out.
Barnes moved over to third on a sacrifice bunt from Villar, and Altuve hit a ball deep to center for the sacrifice fly to tie the game, 2-2.
The A’s put a few more men on base over the next few innings but couldn’t put anything together as they hit into double plays in the fifth, seventh and eighth innings. However, reliever Jose Cisnero hit Josh Donaldson with two outs in the eighth, and in the next at-bat Moss battled back from an 0-2 count and hit the right-hander’s sixth pitch to the upper deck in right field to give the A’s a 4-2 lead.
It was reminiscent of Josh Reddick’s go-ahead homer last night, which came in the same inning, and Moss got every inch of the fastball as it was right where he likes it: drifting in over the inside corner, the perfect place for him to turn his hips and launch it to right.
From there it was up to the bullpen as Parker took to the dugout having given up only one earned run with five hits, four strikeouts and two walks, but it wasn’t meant to be, and the A’s lost their bid for a series sweep.
The rubber match for the series is tomorrow at 11:10 PST, with A.J. Griffin facing off against Bud Norris.