OAKLAND -- It was an unusually warm Saturday afternoon at the Coliseum, and Dan Straily pitched as if he wanted to escape the sun as quickly as possible.
The A’s right-hander faced just two batters over the minimum in seven shutout innings to lead the A’s to a 2-1 victory over the Houston Astros.
Straily had a formidable opponent in Houston left-hander Brett Oberholtzer, who gave up just a lone run over six innings of work. But Yoenis Cespedes got to him for a home run in the fourth and Jed Lowrie added a shot to center in the seventh for the A’s, who stranded eight runners and went just 1-for-6 with men in scoring position.
Oakland has taken two out of the first three in this four-game series. The win pushed them one full game ahead of Texas for first place in the A.L. West, pending the Rangers’ game against the Angels on Saturday night.
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Starting pitching report
Straily (9-7) turned in one of his finest starts of 2013. He allowed just two hits, struck out seven and walked one over seven innings. Aside from Jonathan Villar’s single in the third and Matt Dominguez’s double in the fifth, the only other base runner he allowed came on Brandon Barnes’ two-out walk in the third.
With closer Grant Balfour having thrown 35 pitches Friday night, the A’s turned to Sean Doolittle to close out a narrow victory. Doolittle finished out the final 1 1/3 innings to notch his first save of the season and the second of his career.
Barnes helped the A’s in the top of the eighth. He stole second with two outs but then broke prematurely in an effort to steal third. Doolittle picked him off to snuff a potential game-tying rally. Dan Otero gave up a run in two-thirds of an inning in relief of Straily.
At the plate
The A’s didn’t fully cash in on their 10 hits. However, it was no surprise the runs they did get came via the long ball. Yoenis Cespedes got his arms extended on a 1-1 change-up in the fourth from Oberholtzer and launched a towering homer to break a scoreless tie. In the seventh, Jed Lowrie hit a 1-2 pitch over the wall in dead center to make it a 2-0 game.
The A’s came in leading the majors with 41 home runs since Aug. 9. Here’s a stat that might surprise you: Cespedes, who has 22 homers, is just the second Athletic in franchise history to hit at least 20 homers in his first two seasons in the major leagues. Bob Johnson also did it for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1933 and 1934.
In the field
Straily was terrific, but he was backed up by some solid defense. In the third inning, shortstop Jed Lowrie ranged to his right and made an off-balance throw across the diamond to get Matt Pagnozzi at first. Two batters later, with a man on first, Jonathan Villar singled into the gap in left-center, but Yoenis Cespedes retrieved the ball and cut him down at second as he tried to stretch out a double.
Kurt Suzuki, starting at catcher with Derek Norris serving as DH, made a nice play in the fourth. He sprung out of his stance to field Trevor Crowe’s bunt, spun and unloaded a strong throw to first for the out.
A crowd of 20,340 showed up on one of the warmer days of the season at the Coliseum. Many of those in the lower deck moved up underneath the overhang to escape the sun.
Bartolo Colon (14-6, 2.90) goes for his first victory since July 26 on Sunday. If he gets it, he’ll become the first pitcher to win 15 games with four different American League teams (Indians, Angels, White Sox and A’s). Paul Clemens (4-4, 5.91) starts for Houston in the 1:05 p.m. series finale.