A’s let Astros walk into win

O.CO COLISEUM — Sunday the Houston Astros showed how to turn a ninth inning, one-run deficit into a one-run lead without getting a hit.

The key: walks. Five of them, to be precise.

A’s relievers Ryan Cook and Fernando Abad simply couldn’t throw strikes in the ninth inning, costing the Oakland a 4-3 loss and padding the Angels’ AL West lead to seven with 20 games to play.

Cook (L, 1-3, 3.64 ERA) and Abad together tossing 35 pitches with only 11 going for strikes. Cook allowed three walks while recording one out, and was replaced by Abad. The lefty reliever gave up a deep sac-fly to right-center off the bat of Jake Marisnick to tie the game at 3-3.

Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay

Jose Altuve was intentionally walked to re-load the bases, followed by Dexter Fowler who drew a walk of his own, which gave the Astros the 4-3 lead.

Ryan Cook said bluntly:

“I didn’t make pitches. You have to make pitches.”

Bob Melvin defended his late-game pitching selections:

Eric O’Flaherty wasn’t used because he won’t be available for a couple of days [to to back tightness] … Cook was the guy with the most experience, after Gregerson is out.”

In the bottom of the ninth, needing one to tie and two for pie, Craig Gentry drew a walk. Josh Donaldson followed that with a strikeout — looking —as Houston reliever Josh Fields closed the game for save.

While many were watching Tony Romo bumble against the 49ers, Jason Hammel took on Dallas Keuchel (6-2/3 IP, 8 hits, 3 runs, 2 earned, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts) for the third time since July 30.

The Astros entered Sunday’s contest 3-0 in games started by Keuchel against Oakland this season, with the lefty holding a 2.01 ERA in those starts.

The Oakland offense continued their sputtering ways until the sixth, gathering just three hits through five innings.

In the sixth, Andy Parrino reached on an error by third baseman Marwin Gonzalez. Coco Crisp followed that up with a single, and Craig Gentry used the sac bunt to advance the runners.

After Josh Donaldson was intentionally walked, Derek Norris grounded out to second to break the scoreless tie.

Jose Altuve had to range up the middle for the Norris grounder, making a diving stop which prevented more damage from being done. Jonny Gomes grounded out to short to end the inning.

Jason Hammel (6-2/3 IP, 5 hits, 2 ER) confounded the Houston offense through six, collecting seven strikeouts, five of which left the batters with lumber resting on their shoulders.

In the seventh, after being given the lead, Hammel got into some trouble. Nemesis Chris Carter doubled to right-center to lead-off the inning, followed by a Jason Castro walk. After a sacrifice bunt advanced the runners, Jon Singleton grounded out pushing Carter across the plate, making the score 2-1 Astros.

Not to be outdone, Nate Freiman stepped up with a runner on in the home half of the seventh. He lined a 1-0 pitch into the BBQ Terrace in left to give the A’s a 3-2 lead.

Freiman talked about the team’s recent struggles:

“Good teams have short memories. The best thing we can do is go to Chicago tomorrow and be ready to go.”

Notes

Jose Altuve’s hit in the eighth extended his hit streak to a career-high 14 games. Altuve also has a 23-game hitting streak against the A’s. The hit was Altuve’s 198th of the season. Only Craig Biggio has reached 200 hits (210 in 1998) in an Astros uniform. … Nate Freiman is now batting .467 with two home runs against Dallas Keuchel in his career. … Attendance for Sunday’s game was 25,533.