HOUSTON — The storyline was a natural, if only the A’s could have completed the final chapter.
Jed Lowrie stuck it to his former team in the top of the ninth Saturday, tying the game with a homer off Astros closer Luke Gregerson. Three innings later, it would be three of his former teammates sticking it to Oakland in a 6-5 Astros victory that took the wind from the A’s sails in a four-plus hour marathon at Minute Maid Park.
Lowrie, who’s served two stints with the Astros and was traded back to Oakland in November, could only watch in the bottom of the 12th as George Springer, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa executed a textbook game-ending rally against A’s closer Ryan Madson. Correa shot a single to right field to bring Springer home from third as the Astros sank the A’s for the second consecutive day.
“They’re very gifted,” Lowrie said. “They all know how to play the game. Over the last couple of years, I watched them mature. It’s a pretty dynamic 1, 2, 3.”
Lowrie was interwoven throughout the game’s narrative. His homer was drama of the highest order, as he drilled an 0-1 pitch from Gregerson into the right field seats with the A’s down to their last out in the ninth.
Think Lowrie enjoyed that moment? He was honest in offseason comments about being caught off-guard when the Astros traded him back to the A’s — who he’s also had two stints with now — after he had signed a three-year contract with Houston before the 2015 season.
“It’s always fun to get your former team,” Lowrie said, “and you add the fact it was top of the ninth, two outs and down by one, it was kind of icing on the cake.”
With their bullpen mowing down Astros hitters from the fifth inning on, the A’s had their chance to win it in extras. But Houston left fielder Colby Rasmus came up with a huge play when he nailed Lowrie trying to stretch a single into a double with two outs in the 11th.
Lowrie’s drive to left ricocheted perfectly off the wall right to Rasmus, who turned a fired a strike on the fly to second to get Lowrie and end the inning. After watching the play on video, Lowrie could only tip his cap.
“That’s one of the best plays I think I’ve ever seen an outfielder make,” he said. “He’s on a full sprint, he stops on a dime, picks up the ball barehanded and throws a strike on the base. …
‘With two outs, I’ve got to force the issue right there, try to get in scoring position, try to get Vogter and Valencia a chance. That was a heck of a play.”
The Astros struck quickly in the 12th off Madson, who gave up three homers to them in last fall’s American League Division Series while pitching for Kansas City. Springer doubled to right, Altuve bunted him to third and Correa hit the first pitch he saw to right for the game-winning single.
“They’ve been good off of me, so I’ve been looking forward to this,” Madson said. “It just didn’t go my way. Maybe do a little research and see how I can be better.”
So as the A’s try to avoid a sweep Sunday, they turn to ace Sonny Gray, who will come off the disabled list early to start in place of Rich Hill, who’s still recovering from a strained groin. Starters Jesse Hahn and Kendall Graveman did not do the job either Friday or Saturday, allowing a combined 12 earned runs in just five innings.
“(These) are guys that have pitched well at times,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Graveman’s pitched really well at times, Hahn’s pitched really well at times. Obviously Sonny’s an All-Star. He’s struggling a little bit too. We have to have faith that guys will come around and pitch better.”