OAKLAND -- The Astros’ pursuit of a fourth American League West division title in five years has been put on hold for the second night in a row.
Oakland’s Chad Pinder slugged a pinch-hit grand slam in the seventh inning off reliever Brooks Raley to break open Friday night’s series opener and send the A’s to a 14-2 victory over the Astros at the Coliseum. The A’s scored six runs in the seventh and five in the eighth against Houston’s bullpen.
The Astros managed just two hits against Oakland pitching, including a leadoff homer by Jose Altuve in the third inning -- his 30th of the season. That’s one shy of his career high of 31, which was set in 2019. Chas McCormick’s seventh-inning single was the lone other hit on the night.
Houston has scored just four runs in the last two games after producing 29 runs in three consecutive wins over the Angels on Monday through Wednesday.
"You hate to lose, especially hate to lose by a large margin," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "The good thing is that I didn’t use my big boys at the backend of the bullpen."
The Astros used three rookie pitchers Friday, with Brandon Bielak getting a spot start in place of Zack Greinke, who was placed on the injured list with a sore neck. Bielak lasted three innings, allowing three runs on four hits, before Peter Solomon came in and threw three scoreless innings.
Things got messy after that, with Yimi García being tagged with four runs, Brooks Raley allowing two runs and rookie Seth Martinez giving up five runs in the eighth.
"At that point, we didn’t want to burn any more pitchers," Baker said of Martinez's tough inning. "We've got two more games in the series. … He took one for the team. That’s what you’ve got to do sometimes."
The Astros’ magic number to clinch the AL West remains at three, with the Mariners winning for the second night in a row to climb to within six games of Houston for the division lead with eight games remaining. That means the earliest the Astros could clinch the division is Sunday.
Sunday marks the final game of a grueling stretch in which the Astros play 17 consecutive games without a day off, and Baker said his team is feeling the brunt.
"We need to get through them badly," he said. "Everybody is running on fumes. Today was our 15th day in a row. We got in last night at [around] 3 o’clock in the morning, which seems like it’s happening a lot lately."