OAKLAND – It’s tough to get a read on how much Chris Carter enjoys the damage he’s inflicting on his former team.
Each question posed to the Houston Astros slugger gets greeted with a wide grin but very few words. But if his shy interaction with the media hasn’t changed since his days with the A’s, he’s obviously transformed into a different player on the field.
Carter has blossomed into one of the American League’s top power hitters, and the A’s get reminded of that. Repeatedly. And in the most tortuous of scenarios.
They played with fire once again with Carter in the batter’s box and got burned in Friday’s 4-3 loss to Houston in the opener of a three-game series. With a runner on first and two outs, Jeff Samardzija got ahead of Carter 0-2 in the sixth inning with Oakland leading 3-2. Carter worked the count to full, and then Samardzija tried to blow a heater by him.
[RECAP: Carter crushes A's, Astros win 4-3]
Carter crushed a two-run homer that left a vapor trail as it sailed deep, deep, into the seats in left-center, just below the luxury suites. His 36th home run of the season doomed the A’s, who are doing just enough in all facets of the game to lose on a regular basis these days.
Asked about the idea of pitching around Carter in a one-run game, even with first base occupied, Samardzija responded:
“You don’t want to put him on for free, you wanna make him earn it. You wish you could just go back and choose a different pitch. But that’s the way this game goes. You live and die with what your choices are out there. It’s definitely one I’d like to have back and maybe mix a slider in, or a sinker away. We threw some fastballs by him earlier in the game, and I thought it was a good choice.”
Carter has seven home runs, nearly one-fifth of his season total, and 20 RBI in 16 games against the A’s this season. He was traded along with right-hander Brad Peacock and catcher Max Stassi to the Astros in February 2013 for shortstop Jed Lowrie and reliever Fernando Rodriguez.
And if your blood pressure rises just imagining what Carter could mean to the A’s offense right now if he were still in an Oakland uniform, let’s remember that the A’s might have been up a creek last season if it wasn’t for Lowrie establishing himself as their shortstop and producing as their No. 3 hitter.
Yet, as the A’s division title hopes start to vanish and even their wild-card security becomes threatened, it’s a little extra twist of the knife that Carter is inflicting so much damage.
Asked if he relishes beating the team that traded him, Carter deflects attention by saying it’s most important that his young team realizes it can beat playoff contenders.
How different of a player is he now from his time with Oakland, where hit a combined 19 homers in parts of three seasons?
The difference is “just coming in with the experience and learning guys in the league and how they’re gonna pitch me,” Carter said. “What kind of approach I need to have.”
From the A’s standpoint, there was more to this loss than Carter’s homer. Oakland had the bases loaded with no outs in the fourth, leading 3-2, and came away without a run.
“We can’t continue to put pressure on our pitching like this,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “If we can score some runs there, it’s a completely different game. We already have the lead. If we can add on, certainly the tone of the game is a lot different moving forward.”
The A’s just aren’t good enough to make up for lost scoring opportunities right now, even with their top horses on the mound. Samardzija is now 4-5 with a 3.70 ERA in 12 starts with Oakland. He struck out nine in seven innings Friday, but the home run ball is biting him at inopportune times.
The A’s enter Saturday with just a two-game lead over Seattle for the top wild card spot, and a 2 ½ game lead over Detroit for the second wild card spot.
They’re doing lots to hurt themselves, but one of their former players is digging their hole even deeper.
“We’re out here playing our butts off,” Samardzija said. “We understand what’s at stake and where we’re at and how things are going. We’re trying to find that happy (medium) of not trying to press too hard, but also understand we need to do things a little differently. You wanna go out and be that guy that changes things. I had my opportunity … but that’s the way it goes and you live with it.”