Baker preaches patience with clinch in sight

Astros drop third straight despite Valdez's strong outing vs. A's

September 26th, 2021

OAKLAND -- Astros manager Dusty Baker said his team is still in a great position, taking the position of an experienced and rational manager who’s been through a few pennant races. Three consecutive road losses, including back-to-back setbacks to the A’s at the Coliseum, have the Astros spinning their wheels, though the finish line remains right in front of them.

After suffering their most lopsided loss of the season in Friday’s series opener, the Astros watched the A’s celebrate a 2-1 walk-off victory on Saturday afternoon when Starling Marte drilled a double into the right-center-field gap off closer Ryan Pressly to score Elvis Andrus from first base.

“We’ve just got to get a couple of wins here,” Baker said. “You’ve got to string some hits together and get some good pitching. We’re playing good defense. It’s a big game tomorrow before we come home.”

With their third loss in a row, the Astros’ magic number to clinch the American League West is two. Houston can clinch the division title Sunday with a win over the A’s and a Seattle loss in Anaheim.

If they don’t clinch in Oakland, the Astros return home to face the Rays for a three-game series starting Tuesday. The Astros have a slim chance of catching Tampa Bay for the No. 1 overall seed in the AL.

“We haven’t felt a whole lot of pressure,” said outfielder Kyle Tucker, who slugged a solo homer in the seventh inning, his fourth against A's left-hander Sean Manaea this season. “We just try and come out and play our game. They just pitched really well the past couple of days. These are big league pitchers. They’re a really good club. They just pitched really well and yesterday, hit really well. Today they had some timely hits. That’s just how it ended up.”

Both starting pitchers -- of the Astros and Manaea -- carried shutouts into the seventh inning. Tucker slugged a one-out homer in the seventh to get the Astros on the board, and Valdez needed one more strike to finish off the seventh. Instead, he hit Andrus with a two-strike offering -- his 95th and final pitch -- and reliever Kendall Graveman gave up a bloop single to Josh Harrison that tied the game.

“Off of Graveman, they hit a blooper in there,” Baker said. “There’s nothing you can do. That exit speed was like 60 mph [59.9]. They blooped some balls yesterday off Yimi [García] that started rallies. Framber had Andrus eating out of his hands, and then he hit him with a breaking ball on the foot and they forced one in there.”

Graveman escaped a self-induced bases-loaded jam in the eighth before giving the ball to Pressly to start the ninth.

Andrus singled leading off the inning and scored one out later on Marte's double. Shortstop Carlos Correa couldn’t corral a short-hop relay throw from the outfield, allowing Andrus to score after injuring himself rounding third base, stumbling to the plate before being helped off the field by the A's training staff.

The Astros are stumbling, too, but a win in their final road game of the year Sunday could lead to a long-awaited celebration. Baker, whose team played its 17th game in a row Sunday without a day off, said he will have his regulars in the lineup in an attempt to get a much-needed win.

“These guys are playing hard and to the best of their ability each and every day,” he said. “I don’t hear them complain about being tired. I don’t hear them complain ever. These guys, I know how they’re feeling. You have to go out there and think things will be better tomorrow.”