Valdez's CG effort spoiled by bizarre 4th

July 10th, 2022

OAKLAND -- Framber Valdez’s final pitching line from Saturday might suggest it was a smooth afternoon for the Astros left-hander. 

It doesn’t indicate the frustration and disappointment that marked a 3-2 loss to the A’s at the Coliseum, though it was only the Astros’ second defeat in their past 12 games.

Valdez held the A’s to just three runs (two earned) on four hits over eight innings, but he was done in by a three-run fourth that erased the Astros’ early 2-0 lead. 

“That one weird inning,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “That was as strange an inning as I’ve ever seen.”

Valdez had wiggled out of a first-inning jam unscathed, so it didn’t set off any alarms in the fourth when two singles and a walk loaded the bases for Oakland with one out.

Valdez got Seth Brown to tap a chopper right in front of the plate. Catcher Martín Maldonado sprung from behind the plate to field the ball and tried to tag baserunner Sean Murphy racing home from third. But a sliding Murphy narrowly eluded Maldonado’s tag and scored to cut Houston’s lead to 2-1.

Then, Valdez threw a sinker to Sheldon Neuse that crossed up Maldonado. The pitch ricocheted off Maldonado’s mitt for a passed ball that allowed Elvis Andrus to score the tying run.

With Neuse still at the plate, Valdez uncorked a wild pitch that brought home Stephen Piscotty to give Oakland a 3-2 lead.

Three runs in, and the A’s hadn’t hit the ball past the pitcher’s mound on any of the scoring plays. 

“They scored three runs and none of them went 10 feet,” a befuddled Baker said. “Baseball’s something.”

Despite the final score, perhaps the biggest takeaway from the Astros’ perspective is how Valdez kept it together and finished off one of his finest outings of 2022. The lefty turned in his 14th consecutive quality start and his second complete game this season.

After the A’s scored their runs in the fourth, Valdez didn’t allow another baserunner. He retired 13 in a row through the eighth inning, giving his team a chance to come back. 

It didn’t happen, as A’s starter Zach Logue and five relievers held the Astros to just five hits. But Valdez’s afternoon was another highlight in an incredible first half that could land him an All-Star selection. The 28-year-old is 8-4 with a 2.64 ERA through 17 starts.

“Today, I wasn’t trying to focus on getting a lot of strikeouts,” Valdez said via interpreter Jenloy Herrera. “I said I’m going to throw all my pitches -- my two-seamer, my changeup, my curveball. Just try to get a lot of weak contact, and I was able to do that for the most part.”

Valdez’s poise on the mound has been a work in progress over his five Major League seasons. But days like Saturday show his maturation.

“He’s a guy [who] in the past, [the game] would have got away from him,” Maldonado said. “He’s learning. He’s staying within himself.”

Frustrations boiled over in Houston’s dugout in the eighth, when Baker was ejected by home-plate umpire Ben May for arguing a called third strike on Maldonado. But Baker could take solace in Valdez’s strong start.

“He’s really getting mature as far as refocusing,” Baker said. “He’s come a long way since I first got here.”