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Verlander sets record, but Astros fall to A's in 13

@brianmctaggart
August 17, 2019

OAKLAND -- One by one, Astros relievers tried to finish what Justin Verlander had started. Ryan Pressly, Roberto Osuna, Will Harris, Joe Smith and Hector Rondon put up zeros on the Coliseum scoreboard, handing the baton to the offense each time in hopes of a clutch hit somewhere. A stellar

OAKLAND -- One by one, Astros relievers tried to finish what Justin Verlander had started. Ryan Pressly, Roberto Osuna, Will Harris, Joe Smith and Hector Rondon put up zeros on the Coliseum scoreboard, handing the baton to the offense each time in hopes of a clutch hit somewhere.

A stellar night of pitching for the Astros ended abruptly in the 13th inning on Friday night when Robbie Grossman hit a walk-off single off Cy Sneed -- Houston’s seventh pitcher -- sending the A’s to a 3-2 win.

Box score

“It’s a tough loss because of how long we played and how many resources we used to get to the end of the game,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “Credit to them. They did more with less. ... We had a couple of opportunities as you look back that I wish we could have done a little bit better.”

The Astros have lost four games in a row and five of their last six since beginning the month on a nine-game winning streak. By winning the first two games of the four-game series, Oakland has cut Houston’s lead in the American League West to 7 1/2 games.

Houston’s offense, which bashed five home runs in hot conditions in the East Bay on Thursday, managed only two runs, both coming in the sixth inning. The Astros were 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12 runners.

“We didn’t come through when we needed to, and Verlander was great,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “That’s on us, that’s on the offense.”

Verlander set a franchise record by striking out 11 batters in seven innings, making him the first pitcher in Astros history to have at least 10 strikeouts in six consecutive starts. Randy Johnson (1998) and J.R. Richard (1979, ‘80) each had streaks of five.

“He gets dialed in for big games,” Hinch said. “It’s a really good team across the way. When he starts piling up the punchouts and the soft contact -- he got out of the one jam with the long fly ball to right field -- you kind of feel like he’s in charge of the game.”

Verlander struck out seven of the first nine batters he faced and set down 13 of the first 14 before Mark Canha hit a solo homer with one out in the fifth. The Astros tied it in the sixth on a sac fly by Carlos Correa and an RBI single by Yuli Gurriel, but Marcus Semien took Verlander deep in the sixth to tie the game at 2.

“The Canha homer, that was a not-very-well-executed fastball, and the Semien one, I’ve got to tip my cap,” said Verlander, who’s given up a career-high 31 homers (25 solo shots) this season. “That’s pretty much where I wanted to throw it, and he put a good swing on it. Overall, the stuff was pretty good.”

The Astros’ bullpen was already a bit taxed, having covered 13 2/3 innings between Tuesday and Wednesday in Chicago and 2 2/3 innings in Thursday’s series opener in Oakland. It answered the call Friday and can only hope rookie Rogelio Armenteros is up for the challenge of pitching deep into Saturday’s game in his spot start.

“What our bullpen did was spectacular,” Verlander said. “Even to lose a game, Cy, I thought, did a fantastic job. Unfortunately, a little hopper up the middle beat us. It’s baseball.”

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.