Frankie Montas gave the Athletics exactly what they needed for three scoreless innings on Thursday. But as his team learned the hard way, it’s more about how you finish than how you start, as the Astros overcame an early deficit once again to send the A’s to an 11-6 loss in Game 4 of the American League Division Series at Dodger Stadium.
Montas wound up allowing five runs on seven hits -- including a pair of home runs -- while only getting two outs in the game-changing fourth inning, and the A’s never recovered as Houston hammered its way to a 3-1 series victory.
The outcome was in many ways a microcosm of both Montas’ season and the season-ending series.
The 27-year-old began the season as Oakland’s Opening Day starter and went 2-1 with a 1.57 ERA in his first four outings, but he went 1-5 with a 9.09 ERA in his final eight starts, including Thursday’s finale.
That same strong start and sour ending played out for the A’s over and over against the Astros, as Oakland never managed to get any length or shutdown innings from its rotation.
None of Oakland’s four starters went longer than 4 1/3 innings as Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea, Jesús Luzardo and Montas combined to go 0-2 with an 8.82 ERA while giving up 26 hits -- including eight homers -- in 16 1/3 frames against the Astros.
Manager Bob Melvin noted that part of the shorter starts had to do with wanting to lean on his team’s outstanding bullpen, though obviously the results weren’t what they were looking for on either end.
“I think in the postseason, you tend to go to your bullpen a little bit earlier when you have a strength,” Melvin said. “We just couldn't hold them down in any facet as far as the pitching went. We had some stretches where we did, but nothing sustained through nine innings. That's why they won the series.”
Montas, who pitched two innings of relief in the AL Wild Card Series against the White Sox, came out hot and was hitting 99-100 mph with his fastball as he zipped through the first three innings with just one hit.
But in the fourth, the right-hander lost command of his slider and the Astros began timing him up. After a leadoff walk to Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley drove a 3-1 sinker over the fence in right-center. Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker followed with singles before Carlos Correa unloaded on a 2-1 slider for a three-run, 427-foot blast.
After allowing just two hard-hit balls (95-plus mph exit velocity) in the first three frames, Montas gave up five in the fourth and was finally lifted by Melvin after two more base hits.
Montas wasn’t one of the Athletics’ players made available postgame, but teammate Ramón Laureano summed up his friend’s outing as best he could.
“He was throwing good, but the game got a little out of hand,” Laureano said. “I know he gave all he has. It’s tough. It’s just tough.”
Even including the three starts in the 2-1 Wild Card Series win over the White Sox, Oakland’s starters only went longer than 4 1/3 innings once in their seven postseason games and finished with a 1-3 record and a 6.67 ERA, with opposing batters hitting .347.