A’s push past Astros to take first place

OAKLAND COLISEUM — In a wild back-and-forth game, Oakland pitching settled in as they regained first place in the AL West with a 7-5 win over the Houston Astros.

Oakland’s offense got the ball rolling when Yoenis Cespedes and Nate Freiman hit back-to-back singles to lead off the bottom of the second before Chris Young laid down a bunt single to give the A’s an early lead.

But it wouldn’t last long. With one out in the top of the third, Jonathan Villar doubled, Jose Altuve singled him home, then Trevor Crowe singled. Both runners advanced on a flight out by Jason Castro, and both runners then scored on a Matt Dominguez single to make it 3-1 Astros.

Yet there would be no shut-down inning from Houston starter Dallas Keuchel (L, 5-9, 4.99 ERA).

Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie’s back-to-back doubles to lead off the bottom of the third made it 3-2. Then it was déjà-vu for Cespedes and Freiman, who both singled again, with Freiman driving in the tying run.

The top of the fourth, however, brought another Houston rally and another bunt RBI single. Brett Wallace led off with a base hit, Brandon Barnes was hit by a pitch, and Villar bunt-singled home the go-ahead run to make it 4-3 Astros.

In the bottom of the fourth the A’s would take the lead and never look back. Coco Crisp drew a one-out walk, Donaldson singled, and Lowrie singled home Crisp. A Cespedes ground out brought home Donaldson to give Oakland a 5-4 lead.

It was enough to knock Astros starter Dallas Keuchel out of the game after just 3-1/3 innings. The lefty allowed ten hits, five runs, two walks (one intentional), and struck out three on 95 pitches.

Houston manager Bo Porter said that Keuchel just never looked comfortable on the mound:

“It just seemed like he never got in the groove. When you start to get deep-count after deep-count after deep-count … and all of his innings were high-leverage. You get to that point where you’re just trying to see if he’s gonna in the groove, and he just never got in the groove.”

Donaldson crushed his 21st home run of the seasons in the sixth, a two-run shot that added some insurance and made it 7-4.

For the second straight game, an A’s starter finished strong despite a rough beginning. A.J. Griffin (W, 13-9, 3.91 ERA) recovered enough on Friday night to throw six innings with 98 pitches, allowing seven hits, four runs, one walk, and nine strikeouts.

Griffin, who leads the majors in home runs allowed this year with 33, didn’t give up a long ball tonight on his way to the win. Griffin was happy that Bob Melvin chose to leave him in the game after the rocky first couple innings:

“That was huge. Going out there in the fourth inning, kind of struggling a little bit, Bob stuck with me. That helped my confidence a little bit. I just wanted him to be happy with his decision, execute my game plan, and keep them off balance, and the results were there. It worked out.”

Sean Doolitte and Ryan Cook pitched scoreless seventh and eighth innings before Houston would get to Grant Balfour. Balfour allowed back-to-back base hits to Villar and Altuve before Villar scored on an error by second baseman Eric Sogard.

Balfour eventually closed it out to get his 37th save of the season. As ugly as it was, Melvin was happy with the save and his closer:

A’s manager Bob Melvin

“[Balfour] likes to look at 95 [MPH], I’m sure, but it’s more about the command, and a lot of times when he’s missing by wide margins with his fastball that’s kind of the tell-tale for me. But, you know, he competes. There’s no doubt about that. He got it done today. It wasn’t pretty, but that is the case sometimes.”

With the Texas Rangers losing to the Angels in Anaheim, Oakland has now regained sole possession of first place in the American League West by one-half game. It’s the first time the A’s have been in first place by themselves since August 6.

Notes

Griffin recorded a career-high tying nine strikeouts. … Crisp has recorded an extra-base hit for a career-high seven consecutive games. .. Cespedes has hit safely in ten straight games against Houston after going 0-for-11 in his first three games against the Astros. … Donaldson scored a career-high three runs and is batting .349 in 17 games against Houston. … Lowrie recorded his 42nd double of the season, which are the most in a season by an A’s player since Miguel Tejada recorded 42 in 2003.