Oakland rolled into Houston on Friday fresh off a three-game sweep of the Twins, and riding a five-game winning streak overall. Back-to-back losses against the Astros slowed their roll, but this afternoon the A's welcomed back 2015 Cy Young 2nd runner up Sonny Gray from the 15-day DL, just in time to try and help them avoid getting swept. Gray was indeed solid, but Lance McCullers was solid for longer, and the Astros exploited the Oakland bullpen and defense enough to come away with a 5-2 win. The win completes Houston's third sweep since May 24 and a 4-1 homestand; the team is now 28-30 overall, climbing back to within two games of .500 for the first time since they were 3-5 back on April 8.
On the Mound:
Sonny Gray's 57 Game Score for five innings of work was easily his best outing since he posted another 57 back on April 22, so Oakland cannot be upset with his results. But Lance McCullers was determined spoil Sonny's return, and Lance did exactly that to earn the win. His 1st inning started out less solid, loading the bases with one out on a walk and two singles, before he forced frenemy Jed Lowrie at home on a Khris Davis bouncer. But Yonder Alonso blooped a single into short left field to score two, putting Houston down 2-0 before they had the chance to bat.
That would be the only scoring that the A's did all day, as McCullers turned in six scoreless frames after the 1st. A one-out double by Stephen Vogt in the 3rd went nowhere; Alonso doubled and Marcus Semien singled to start the 4th, but a force out between two strikeouts erased that threat. With one out in the 6th, Alonso (walk) and Semien (single) again started a threat, but Lance got Chris Coghlan on a grounder to second, then he beat a diving Billy Burns to first, receiving Tyler White's toss for out #3.
McCullers started his final frame in the 7th with a Coco Crisp strikeout and a Lowrie bouncer that Lance reflexively and impressively fielded himself. Vogt singled and Danny Valencia walked, prompting a visit from the coach and a pinch hitter in Billy Butler. But Lance stayed on and got Butler on a 2-1 knuckle curve, grounding to third for a force ending the inning. All told, he turned in a 59 Game Score for a 7 IP / 8 H / 2 R / 2 ER / 3 BB / 9 K line, good enough for his third win while lowering his season ERA to 4.23.
The Astros pulled ahead for the first time following the 7th inning stretch, so Tony Sipp came on in the 8th with a 3-2 lead and McCullers in line for the win. Sipp got Alonso to fly out to center, but walked Semien, and with lefty Coghlan due next, A's manager Bob Melvin called on righty Jake Smolinski to pinch hit. A.J. Hinch responded by going to righty Pat Neshek, who retired Smolinski with a 1-1 slider on a fly ball to left. Billy Burns followed and looped a 1-1 sinker that immediately looked like trouble heading into short right field. Neshek said something that we can't repeat around children, but Handsome Jake Marisnick rode to the rescue, making a beautiful diving catch to rob Burns in what was then still a one-run game.
After Luke Gregerson worked (not well) yesterday, Hinch turned to Will Harris with a three run lead in the 9th, and the 9th turned out blissfully uneventful this afternoon. Crisp flied out to center, Lowrie struck out swinging, then Vogt grounded out, 5-3, to earn Harris his first save of the season.
At the Plate:
We see you, Carlos Gomez. The Astros' only run off of Sonny Gray today came leading off the 5th inning, when Gomez hammered Gray's slider into the Crawford Boxes, for his first home run since Game 4 of the ALDS against Kansas City. In the 8th against Mark
Houston's second run came in the 6th, when Evan Gattis (1x4, BB) homered for the third game in a row and his 9th of the season, tying the game then at 2-2. The beard is back.
George Springer took an 0x4, but walked to start the 7th, moved to second on a bad pickoff throw by Ryan Dull, then tagged and moved over to third on Altuve's fly to center. That brought up Carlos Correa (1x4, BB), who stroked a double over third and into left, plating Springer for the go-ahead (and winning) run.
Tony Kemp got the start in LF and went 1x3, before Colby Rasmus moved from right to left and Handsome Jake Marisnick came in as a defensive substitution starting the 8th - just in time to make the aforementioned fabulous catch to end the top of the inning. In the bottom of the same, Marisnick walked and moved to second on Springer's RBI groundout, then moved to third after Altuve and Correa both also walked. On Rzepczynski's first pitch to Rasmus, Colby bounced the ball back to the mound, but Rzepczynski spun and fell after catching the ball, allowing Handsome Jake to score with the game's final run.
Houston's half of the 7th, immediately after Lance McCullers finished his day. Springer walked, moved to second on Ryan Dull's wild pickoff throw, to third on Altuve's flyout, and Correa drove him home. That was Houston's only hit with RISP all day (1x10, with 12 team LOB), but it was enough.
Man of the Match:
McCullers deserves all the praise for out-dueling Sonny Gray, but we're going with Carlos Gomez here. It's been a long time coming to see Gomez have a big day; if he can start to string them together, that will be huge for Houston.
Goat of the Game:
Tyler White (0x4, K) didn't do much as the 7 hitter, but Colby Rasmus as the cleanup hitter (0x5, K) did even less. It's okay; we love them both anyway.
The Astros control their own fate in the standings this week as tomorrow they head to Arlington for a huge four-game set against the reviled Ramgers. The magnificent Masked Marvel will be back on the recap Monday for Game 1:
Mike Fiers (3-3, 4.84) v. Colby Lewis (5-0, 3.09)
8:05 Eastern, 7:05 Central.