Astros unable to solve A's after early rally
Houston recovers from four down, keeps it close until seven-run ninth
HOUSTON -- For eight innings, the Astros at least made the A's sweat one out.
But the ninth inning looked all too familiar for a series that only continues to swing in Oakland's favor -- and test both teams' patience.
The A's roughed up Astros closer Josh Fields for five runs in the ninth inning to break open a tie game and emerge from Minute Maid Park with a 12-5 victory on Friday night.
"About as frustrating as you can get," catcher Jason Castro said of the past few games. "We've had our struggles against the A's. Came from behind and came back today, so that was nice to see. To have it unravel in the ninth was rough."
It was the second consecutive outing in which Fields had allowed at least three runs, though this did not have the fireworks of the walk-off home run that doomed him in Seattle on Wednesday.
Instead, the A's methodically used a hit-by-pitch, a sharp single and a bunt single to load the bases. Daric Barton delivered the go-ahead damage with a two-run single that escaped the clutches of Jose Altuve, who was playing in with hopes of preventing a run from scoring. But a throwing error by George Springer allowed a third run to score on the play.
"Give the Oakland A's credit," Houston manager Bo Porter said. "They swung the bats well. On the other hand, we did not execute our plan, left pitches over the plate and they put good swings on it."
Despite the lopsided final margin, it was for the most part an uncommonly close game between the squads, with Oakland owning the Astros since becoming divisional rivals last season. The A's have won 20 of the past 24 against the Astros, including the first five this season.
Two doubles, a fielder's choice and Josh Donaldson's mammoth two-run homer rounded out the A's ninth-inning barrage, as those final two runs were credited to righty reliever Anthony Bass.
"It was awesome to finish the way we did," Oakland's Craig Gentry said. "[Brandon] Moss getting hit by that pitch and [Alberto] Callaspo with that nice single, I think that really got us going. Once we got a couple runs across, we were kind of relaxed and able to let it go."
It did not always look like an affair that would be decided in the ninth. The Athletics picked up where they left off after Thursday's 10-run slugfest, touching Astros starter Brad Peacock for four runs in the second inning.
Houston chipped into the lead with one run in the third but was left frustrated after stranding two runners. And anyway, Oakland immediately got the run back with a sacrifice fly in the top of the fourth.
A 5-1 lead certainly seemed fairly secure, but not with a scrappy Astros offense facing an erratic version of A's starter Jesse Chavez.
Though Donaldson's errant throw in the fourth inning plated two and certainly swung the pendulum back in the Astros' favor, Chavez wasn't sharp, either. He served up eight hits and four earned runs (five total) while getting just five strikeouts, his lowest total since his season opener.
But his counterpart's night would also end abruptly, as a high pitch count meant Peacock was done after five innings.
"Definitely fastball location, I was struggling all night with it," Peacock said. "Luckily, I had some offspeed to help me out. But I was at 90-something pitches through five innings, which isn't too good, so I just battled all night."
Recent callup Jose Cisnero held down the fort for 1 1/3 innings despite leaving two baserunners for lefty Raul Valdes to clean up in the seventh inning.
Valdes made it two outs into the eighth before Chad Qualls retired Donaldson with two runners on. At that point, the Astros seemed to have some leverage.
"It's definitely hard to see the bullpen have it slip after those innings," Peacock said. "They've been doing a heck of a job. I feel bad because I wasn't able to pick them up tonight."
The home team put two on in the bottom of the frame, but Altuve, who tied his season high with three hits, grounded out. From there, it was going to be Fields' game in the ninth.
The closer did not even record an out, drawing some disgruntled cheers from a sparse crowd that stuck out an affair of more than four hours. It was the latest snafu for a bullpen that is getting increasingly thinner and worn because of injuries and overuse.
"All we can do is put the guys in the game who are down there," Porter said. "We try to do everything we can to make sure they're successful. They're coming in in the spots we feel are best suited for them, and they're not getting it done."
The frustration seeped into the bottom half of the inning, as Porter was ejected after arguing that Oakland reliever Fernando Abad should have been tossed for hitting Castro with a pitch. Moss was hit twice in the ninth inning alone, reigniting some tensions after Paul Clemens was tossed from Thursday's game for hitting Jed Lowrie with a pitch.
"My response to [the umpire] was real simple," Porter said. "If you're going to toss our guy yesterday, then it looked pretty intentional to me. It's a judgment call on the umpire's part, and he didn't think it was intentional. I said my piece, what it is I thought, and he threw me out of the game."
The Astros are now 0-3 in games tied after eight innings, this time wasting a season-high 11 hits and losing only their second game when scoring at least four runs.