OAKLAND -- Such a treat this was, October baseball in August, and the A's and Astros didn't disappoint.
After the A's emerged victorious in the first two games to call this scintillating series theirs and pull into a first-place tie with the defending World Series champions, they fell just shy of a three-game sweep -- only after Khris Davis slammed a pair of first-pitch homers off Oakland's nemesis of postseasons past, Justin Verlander, in a 9-4 defeat at the Coliseum on Sunday.
The loss prevented the A's from grasping sole possession of the top spot in the American League West, instead leaving them one game back with 38 to play -- including three more against the Astros in Houston later this month.
They do have a penciled-in date with the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game, after maintaining their lead over the Mariners at 3 1/2 games, but settling for second-best in the West simply won't do now.
"We just took two out of three from a really good team," A's catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "We're not going to win every game the rest of the year. It's just not going to happen. It would be nice, but it's very unlikely, especially when you're playing teams in your division that are really good. We just gotta stay the course, keep winning series, and that's the best we can do right now. For me, I think that's a very good goal for us to have."
The A's have taken five of the last seven from the Astros, after playing to a 1-8 record against them to begin the season -- a stretch in which they were thoroughly outperformed in all facets. The A's have since morphed into one of the mightiest teams in the game, compiling a 40-14 record beginning June 16.
"We're just a better team now," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "They were handing it to us pretty good early in the season, but here recently we've played them really well. I think before maybe we hope to win those games against them, and now I think we go out and expect to win the games."
The A's jumped on Verlander for two runs in the first on solo offerings from Matt Chapman and Davis, who later launched a two-run shot in the third to tie the game after Houston posted a four-spot with two outs against Sean Manaea in the top half of the inning. But the shutdown inning eluded Manaea, who surrendered a homer to Evan Gattis in the fourth for an Astros lead that would remain intact.
Manaea was pulled at 67 pitches, unable to record an out in the fifth inning, and the Astros would count off three more homers from Martin Maldonado, Alex Bregman and Marwin Gonzalez, all against righty Emilio Pagan, while the A's were held scoreless.
Verlander picked up his 200th career victory, 12 of them coming against Oakland.
"We got him on the run early, and it was a great feeling in the first inning with Chapman and KD both hitting homers, and boy we had a lot of energy in our dugout," Melvin said. "Obviously the four-run inning turned the game, and then we couldn't quite catch up. There are going to be some games like that from time to time, unfortunately."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Manaea had faced the minimum when Maldonado stepped to the plate with two outs in the third and tagged the lefty for a double. George Springer followed with a single, and Manaea induced a ground ball from Bregman, only to watch it get through the right side for an RBI single, setting up Yuli Gurriel's three-run homer. Manaea was responsible for six runs and nine hits, both tying season highs.
"That was just a bad job of gathering myself and taking time to slow things down," Manaea said. "Just a bad one right there. I wasn't getting outs. I was giving up runs. My job is to give the team a chance to win, and I just didn't do that today."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Davis secured his sixth multi-homer game of the season and 21st of his career when he clobbered yet another first-pitch fastball from Verlander in the third. The A's slugger has 36 home runs on the season -- third most in the Majors -- and is on pace for 47, which would give him three consecutive 40-plus homer seasons. Davis is 6-for-11 lifetime against Verlander, with four home runs.
"When you have multiple home runs off guys, it stands out on my card, but he also has multiple home runs on just about anybody," Melvin said. "It's a nice little feather in his cap. Your guys in the middle of the order, you want to be able to handle good pitching and hit good pitching. Not everybody can do that. He can. And that's why he is who he is. You lean on those guys a little bit more against top-flight pitchers, and he's up for the task always."
HE SAID IT
"The other teams know that we're good, and we're a legit team. They know that we're going to come out every day and battle. They're preparing like we are. They know that they have to have their best stuff to beat us." -- Lucroy
The A's will conclude their homestand with a three-game set against the Rangers. Right-hander Mike Fiers, who is 1-0 with a 2.38 ERA in two starts since joining Oakland, will be on the mound for Monday's 7:05 p.m. PT opener at the Coliseum. Veteran right-hander Bartolo Colon (7-10, 5.19 ERA) will start for the Rangers.