A's struggle to find rhythm against motivated Peacock
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OAKLAND – It seemed the Houston Astros dropped out of relevance in the American League West long, long ago.

They showed Thursday night they’re quite capable of still having a say in the division outcome.

The Astros might be 47-93, but they are good enough to take advantage of poor play. That’s just what they did in a 3-2 victory over the A’s in the first of a four-game series.

[RECAP: Instant Replay: A's can't complete comeback in 3-2 loss to Astros]

Motivation comes in different forms when you’re 33 ½ games out of first place. It comes in the opportunity to be a spoiler against contending teams. For Brad Peacock, surely it came in the form of trying to show his former team that it made a mistake in trading him.

Peacock, traded from the A’s to the Astros in February along with Chris Carter for Jed Lowrie, held the A’s to four hits over seven-plus innings, striking out nine and walking one.

“I have a bunch of buddies over there," Peacock said of the A's. “It was pretty awesome” to pitch well against them.

Most in the Oakland clubhouse were quick to heap praise on Peacock. But to chalk up this loss as simply losing to a hot pitcher would qualify as denial. Players said they didn’t come out flat against the major leagues’ worst team, but they certainly were out of sorts early on.

Rookie right-hander Sonny Gray took a couple innings to find his rhythm. By that point the A’s were down 3-0.

He was quite willing to accept blame afterward and didn’t take much solace in lasting eight innings and retiring 19 of his final 20 hitters.

“I gotta do a better job early in the game,” Gray said. “I still wasn’t executing my pitches. I started mixing my fastballs much better (later). I started focusing on making pitches and getting ground balls. I started mixing my two-seamer and my four-seamer, changing speeds on it. And I was able to get ground balls.”

But you won’t look back on this one and blame the rookie pitcher.

“We didn’t play really great behind him,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Those things end up costing you in a close game.”

Lowrie and Eric Sogard weren’t on the same page on Matt Pagnozzi’s second-inning grounder that went for a single. He came around to score eventually, and Yoenis Cespedes let Jose Altuve’s single clank off his glove to let another run score and put the A’s behind 3-0.

That paved the way to a loss that probably had many fans slapping their forehead. How could the A’s look so bad after looking so good against contenders Tampa Bay and Texas? It tends to happen over a 162-game season.

But now the A’s (80-60) are down to their final 22 games. They fell a half-game behind idle Texas in the A.L. West standings. A huge road series against the Rangers looms next week, but before that, they have business to take care of.

It starts with three more games against the Astros, and it appears it won’t be a cakewalk. Houston has won three of its past four against Oakland.

Catcher Stephen Vogt tried not to blow Thursday’s game out of proportion.

“We’ve been playing good baseball. We have to come back (Friday) and play the same game we’ve been playing the last few weeks.”