HOUSTON -- The sample size isn't small. Trevor Cahill's road troubles are tangible.
The right-hander's latest meltdown away from the Coliseum unfolded at Minute Maid Park, where the A's fell short in their showdown with the Astros on Wednesday afternoon. Their 5-4 defeat, punctuated by Tyler White's walk-off homer opposite Jeurys Familia in the ninth, gave way to just the second series loss in their past 21 tries. White hit MLB's record 81st walk-off big fly of the season.
Thus, the A's moved backward in the American League West competition, leaving them 2 1/2 games behind the Astros ahead of a 10-game homestand that features meetings with AL Wild Card counterparts Seattle and New York.
Operating without their ace isn't easy, but the A's, who lost not only Sean Manaea to injury this week but also Brett Anderson, need more from their remaining players as they push for the postseason. The team got just 10 2/3 innings from its starters in three games under the roof this week.
"We had been getting really good starts and deeper in games, which allows us to not have to tax the bullpen here much, but here recently it's been the opposite, where we're going to the bullpen too much," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "Guys continue to grind. There's really no game where we have a break and can stay away from guys. At some point in time, we need to get more distance out of the rotation."
The bullpen performed admirably in response, but it's unfair to ask so much of a unit with 28 regular-season games yet to play. Oakland holds a 5 1/2-game lead on the Mariners for the second AL Wild Card spot.
"We're going to battle for the division until the last day of the season, and I think the fans got their money's worth," catcher Josh Phegley said. "Just the intensity and every pitch matters, just the motions both teams brought to the table, it was a lot of fun."
Cahill figures to take two turns when the team returns home, where he's 4-0 with a 0.85 ERA in eight starts this season. The veteran has struggled mightily elsewhere, stretching his road ERA to 7.02 after allowing four runs (three earned) in just 3 1/3 innings in Houston, he but doesn't put too much thought or stock into the splits. "Other than when you guys ask me about it," he said.
"It's gotten to the point where it's more than maybe just a coincidence," Melvin said. "His numbers at home are terrific. I know he loves pitching off that mound, got a lot of foul territory for him, and he's comfortable there and had success. You'd like to see him get on a roll on the road, too. You'd think at some point in time it would even out for him some, but at this point, it has not."
Cahill yielded a pair of first-inning runs, then surrendered two more in the fourth to wipe away a 3-2 A's lead. Walks plagued the veteran, who issued a season-high six of them -- including a bases-loaded free pass to Alex Bregman that prompted his exit.
The A's got three straight hits from Marcus Semien, Matt Chapman and Jed Lowrie for a quick run to open the third, and Stephen Piscotty capped the inning with a two-run double, later getting hit by a Brad Peacock pitch with the bases loaded to tie the game in the seventh.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
After Piscotty was hit by a pitch, the Astros turned to lefty Tony Sipp to face Matt Olson, who skied a popup into foul territory for the second out. Pinch-hitter Nick Martini grounded out to leave the bases loaded.
"We didn't push enough runs across the plate," Phegley said. "The bullpen kept us in the game, and they always do, so we gotta pick them up next time and get them a win."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Ramon Laureano raced 98 feet in 5.8 seconds to the warning track for a sensational basket catch in the second inning, robbing Tony Kemp of extra bases and likely keeping a run off the board. Laureano, who is making a daily habit out of highlight-reel plays, attempted to double up a frenzied Max Stassi, who raced back to first in time.
"That's the Willie Mays play," Melvin said. "At the time, that's probably the greatest play that's ever been made, and then now you see it kind of fairly often. But in this ballpark, playing a little shallow, when it was hit, I didn't think he had a chance at it and [he] catches it over the shoulder. But being from the Bay Area, that's the one I thought about. I'm not comparing anybody, but the style of play, that's the one I've thought of."
HE SAID IT
"It was a spirited series. Really closely fought. Close one yesterday, close one today. Both teams playing hard, which is what you would expect, and this time of year, if I'm a fan watching these games, it's pretty entertaining." -- Melvin
The A's will return to Oakland for a 10-game homestand, beginning with a crucial four-game series with the Mariners. Right-hander Frankie Montas (5-3, 3.75 ERA) will be added to the active roster ahead of Thursday's 7:05 p.m. PT opener at the Coliseum for his first start with the A's since July 29. Seattle will counter with lefty Wade LeBlanc (7-3, 3.92 ERA).