Straily's gem keeps A's on top in AL West
Solo shots by Cespedes, Lowrie are enough to edge Astros
OAKLAND -- When a young team like the Astros sits in last place and plays a postseason contender, it can become susceptible to overaggressive play in an attempt to make an impact on a team's playoff chances -- even it isn't their own.
The A's, who sit alone on top of the American League West and are a season-best 22 games over .500 after their 2-1 victory in Saturday's matinee with the Astros at O.co Coliseum, evaded the Astros' effort to play spoiler by capitalizing on their gambles, both at the plate and on the basepaths.
Dan Straily blanked the Astros over seven innings to earn his third consecutive victory, striking out seven and yielding just two hits. He's now struck out 109 batters in 134 1/3 innings -- both of which are tops among American League rookies.
Straily is 3-0 in his last three starts, a stretch that comes on the heels of a career-long seven-start winless streak.
"Once in a while there are some lapses where he loses the command of his fastball," Jed Lowrie said. "There's days when he does really well and there's days he's outside of it and he gets right back into the zone. Today was one of those days. He had his slider working really well. He was impressive today."
Straily's slider was as good as its been all season, A's manager Bob Melvin said, and he used it with a strong command of his fastball to dominate the Astros for the second time this season. Straily has allowed seven hits and two runs in 13 2/3 innings against Houston, walking one and striking out 18.
"I think it's just them as an aggressive team," Straily offered as an explanation for his success. "You see it on the bases, you see it at the plate, you see it from their throws in from the outfield. You see their aggressiveness all over the baseball field. Some days it can help you and some days it can really hurt you. You just try to match their aggressiveness and hopefully come out on top."
Oakland's runs came off a pair of solo shots by Yoenis Cespedes and Lowrie in the fourth and seventh innings, respectively. Cespedes' home run was his 22nd of the season, and he's batting .393 (11-for-28) in September after hitting .216 in August, his lowest average in any month in his career.
"That's what it takes to win over the stretch of a season and especially down the stretch when games really matter," Lowrie said. "At the end of the day it's about scoring more than the other guy, whether it's 2-1 or 10-9."
The A's should have had the bases loaded in the third inning when Josh Donaldson singled into right field with two outs to advance Lowrie and Kurt Suzuki to second and third, but Lowrie didn't notice that Suzuki was held up at third and got caught in no-man's land after rounding second too far. Suzuki was forced to head home and was thrown out easily to end the inning.
"I didn't pick up the third-base coach," Lowrie said. "I didn't see [Mike] Gallego. I just assumed with two outs they were sending him. My thought was if I make a good hard turn and go to third that maybe I can draw the cutoff throw to get me out at third so a run could score easier."
The A's kept the Astros scoreless until Dan Otero took over in the eighth inning. He surrendered a one-out double and an infield hit to put runners on the corners and then rushed a throw to second that could've potentially gotten the A's out of the inning with a double play had it been on the mark.
Then, Brandon Barnes stole second base after Sean Doolittle nearly picked him off, but he was nabbed at third after trying to steal third during the same at-bat despite already being in scoring position and one of the Astros' fastest baserunners.
"I really couldn't believe he tried to go again, honestly, with the tying run at second base in scoring position," Suzuki said. "He's a really fast guy, too."
Suzuki's play, combined with Doolittle's scoreless ninth for his first save of the season, helped preserve the win. Doolittle normally serves as the team's setup man, but Grant Balfour was unavailable after throwing 35 pitches the previous game.
"I had some inner rage," Doolittle said. "Now I know why Balfour yells at himself so much. You definitely get a little bit adrenalin. ... It's a different beast going out there trying to get a save. I was trying to keep it in check and try to channel it and use it the right way, but it was a rush for sure."