Programming note: Astros-A’s coverage starts Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. with A’s Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
OAKLAND – Extra innings usually is a time when the A’s buckle down and take care of business.
They didn’t make enough key plays Tuesday night, and the Houston Astros showed they are starting to learn how.
L.J. Hoes hit a fastball from Fernando Abad for a 12th-inning homer that sank the A’s 3-2 in the first of a three-game series at the Coliseum.
“They’re very improved, especially in games like this,” A’s starting pitcher Scott Kazmir said. “It shows the sign of a good team being able to pull out close games.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Hoes' HR lifts Astros past A's in 12]
You could point the finger at Abad, who was trying to go outside with a first-pitch fastball to Hoes and instead left it over the plate, but the finger would be misdirected. The A’s had their chances to cash in offensively at different points, particularly early on, but they couldn’t, finishing 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
A controversial play also came back to haunt Oakland during Houston’s two-run rally in the third. Jose Altuve reached on an infield single, but A’s manager Bob Melvin thought Altuve should have been called out for running inside the baseline. First baseman Nate Freiman couldn’t reach around Altuve to receive Josh Donaldson’s wide throw, and it got by him to allow both Astros runners to advance a base. Chris Carter followed with a two-run single for a 2-0 Houston lead.
“They said they didn’t think it affected it from the angle that J.D. threw it from,” Melvin said “It did. The ball’s up the line and Frei had to go get it. It looked like (Altuve) was inside the line and my opinion was he should have been called out.”
But here’s the big-picture take-away from Tuesday: The Astros, in case you hadn’t noticed, are an improving ballclub. They’ve been playing basically .500 ball for the past two-plus months and they’ve got enough talent, as Kazmir said, to pull out a squeaker in the late innings.
The A’s began a stretch Tuesday where they play nine consecutive games against either Houston (42-58) or Texas (40-60), the bottom two teams in the American League West.
In theory, it provides a breather. But as Tuesday showed, the A’s are likely to have a fight on their hands against the Astros, who play two more at the Coliseum and then host the A’s for three next week. And Houston was without star rookie outfielder George Springer on Tuesday because of a quad injury. He’s questionable for the rest of this series.
“They’re a big league club, they’re gonna compete,” A’s catcher John Jaso said.
Jaso thought the wind seemed to be changing directions Tuesday night. It seemed to be blowing in from left field at times – Donaldson hit a ball that seemed it might be ticketed for the seats in the sixth, but it hit off the wall for a double.
Then Hoes’ drive wound up carrying over the wall in the 12th.
But winds will change and affect the flight of the baseball. That happens over the course of 162 games. Incorrect calls will take place too. The A’s, who entered Tuesday with a major league-best 10 extra-inning victories, can’t always rely on their extra-inning magic.
They need to take care of business in the first nine innings, because the theory about that breather in the schedule may just turn out to be bogus.