OAKLAND – The fans that sat through seven innings of uninspired baseball Thursday night deserved to be rewarded.
They were, with a late A’s rally that shot some life throughout the mostly empty O.co Coliseum. But it wasn’t enough to prevent a 3-2 loss to the Houston Astros in the opener of a four-game series.
Oakland snapped to life too little too late after falling behind by three runs.
On the surface, it appears the A’s should handle the major leagues’ worst team with ease. But perhaps Thursday’s mostly lackluster effort shouldn’t have been too surprising when put into context.
The A’s came off an emotionally charged series in which they took two of three from the Texas Rangers and nudged their way into a first-place tie in the American League West. “Trap” games usually aren’t talked about in baseball, but Thursday certainly had the qualifications for one.
Houston came in with the big leagues’ worst record at 46-93. An announced crowd of 11,569, which looked much smaller than that, hardly lit a fire under the home team.
The A’s obliged by bumbling their way into an early hole. They rallied for two runs in the bottom of the eighth but Houston reliever Josh Fields slammed the door on them with a 1-2-3 ninth.
The A’s went 11-1 against the Astros through the first 12 meetings this season. Houston has now won three of the last four.
Starting pitching report
Sonny Gray got knocked around for six hits and all three of his runs in the first two innings. Then the rookie found his groove and retired 16 of his next 17 hitters. He had to be frustrated with the run he allowed in the first. He picked Jose Altuve off first base and had two outs and the bases empty before things took a bad turn. Trevor Crowe doubled and Gray walked Brett Wallace. Then another former Athletic, Chris Carter, lined an RBI single to left to get the visitors on the board.
Gray allowed consecutive one-out singles in the second, though Matt Pagnozzi’s grounder up the middle could have been an out. After getting Jonathan Villar looking, Gray gave up a run-scoring single to Altuve that was misplayed by Yoenis Cespedes to let two runs score.
Overall, Gray allowed just the three runs (two earned) over eight innings. He gave up seven hits, struck out seven and walked one. A nice line that looked even better given how his night started.
Ryan Cook held down the fort in the top of the ninth to give the A’s a chance in their final at-bat.
At the plate
The A’s looked helpless most of the night against ex-Oakland pitcher Brad Peacock. They notched just three hits over the first seven innings and trailed 3-0 going into the bottom of the eighth. Then things got interesting.
Eric Sogard tripled and Stephen Vogt drove him in with a double. Peacock exited and the Astros used three relievers to get through the rest of the inning.
With two outs and runners on the corners, pinch hitter Alberto Callaspo hit a dribbler to the left side. Houston reliever Jorge De Leon flipped the ball to the plate, but Vogt slid just under the tag to make it 3-2 on a very close play. Astros manager Bo Porter was furious. He immediately got ejected for arguing and had to be restrained while continuing to gesture at home plate umpire Mark Ripperger. Yoenis Cespedes ended the inning by grounding into a fielder’s choice with runners on first and second.
In the field
The A’s got sloppy in the Astros’ two-run second. Jed Lowrie and Eric Sogard both broke for Matt Pagnozzi’s grounder up the middle. Then each seemed to think the other would field it, and it wound up a single. With runners on first and second later in the inning, left fielder Yoenis Cespedes booted Jose Altuve’s RBI single and allowed two runs to score on the play to make it 3-0.
It was a good night to claim a row for yourself and enjoy some baseball. Paid attendance was 11,569 but maybe half that appeared to show up.
For all his trouble giving up the home run ball, A.J. Griffin (12-9, 3.84) ranks seventh in the A.L. with a .232 opponents’ batting average. He’ll oppose lefty Dallas Keuchel (5-8, 4.77) Friday night in a 7:05 p.m. game.