Astros bite A’s in ninth to complete sweep

A Sunday afternoon full of promise ended in disappointment after a ninth-inning Houston comeback sunk Oakland 7-6 to sweep the A’s for the first time since migrating to the AL West.

Oakland’s defense gave up five runs or more in all three losses to the division-leading Astros. The team is looking for answers to solve their defensive woes, and manager Bob Melvin told SFBay what he thinks will help:

“We need to get better (at) pitching. … At times we’ve had great pitching. As I was saying before the game, it’s the consistency that’s the problem for us right now and in the last four or five games, we’ve done just enough to lose.”

With the game all but locked up for Oakland at 6-5 in the top of the ninth, a leadoff hit from Jake Marisnick got the snowball rolling for the Astros. Jose Altuve followed up Marisnick with a grounder that appeared to be an easy out, but poor fielding and decision making got both runners safe to first and second.

Before the A’s knew it, the bases were loaded with only one down, and center fielder Sam Fuld found himself helplessly chasing a fly ball well over his head from Houston’s Evan Gattis to give Houston the go-ahead 7-6 lead.

Gattis’ fourth RBI was the cherry on top of a frustrating game that featured multiple errors and miscues from the A’s.

The A’s bullpen was the focus of the team’s struggles. Catcher Stephen Vogt said the team feels frustrated about the recent slump, but said that the pitching staff does not deserve all of the blame:

“I think overall (Evan) Scribner has looked great for us and continues to do a good job, and even (Tyler) Clippard. … He didn’t make any mistakes today, and I still want to know how Evan Gattis hit that pitch. He needs to teach me how to do that.”

With Pomeranz pitching well through the first two innings, Oakland’s bats wasted no time waking up to give the team an early lead. After Ike Davis drew a walk, Josh Reddick drove him home with a blistering shot into right center field. Reddick’s triple was his first of the season, and also gave the A’s the first lead over the Astros in the series.

With Reddick in scoring position, and only one out in the inning, Brett Lawrie followed up with a soaring sacrifice fly to center, plating Reddick for a 2-0 lead.

Eager to respond, Houston’s Evan Gattis got even with the A’s by lasering a line drive shot of his own past Eric Sogard at second to score Marisnick and Altuve to tie the game at 2-2. Before the inning was over, a Colby Rasmus singled would score Jed Lowrie to give the Astros a 3-2 lead.

The Oakland adversity train got rolling in fourth inning after manager Bob Melvin uncharacteristically lost his temper after a questionable call, and found himself in the locker room much earlier than the ninth inning.

The ejection was followed by a two-run shot from Houston’s Jake Marisnick for a 5-2, leaving the A’s searching for answers.

With a large hill to climb, the A’s offense answered right back. The A’s scored three on RBI singles from Brett Lawrie and Craig Gentry, who rewarded their team with a rally when things took a turn for the worse.

After taking turns battering each other through the fourth inning, both teams were using new pitchers by the sixth. Pomeranz pitched five innings with three earned runs and three walks, while his counterpart Asher Wojciechowski pitched four innings, and accounted for all five earned runs.

All the A’s seemed to need was the relief of a tie ballgame and a seventh-inning stretch to get back into a groove.

Gentry took a walk in the seventh, which set up a sacrifice bunt from Sam Fuld to get Gentry over to second. With one out, Gentry took a risky chance at stealing, and showed no signs of stopping as he charged toward third base.

Lucky for him, Marcus Semien ripped a line drive single over former Athletic Jed Lowrie, and got Gentry home to take a 6-5 lead.

Lawrie told SFBay the A’s offense is a high point for the team during the recent four-game skid:

“I like the way we’re competing, I like the way we’re going out there and putting up some runs and getting some baserunners. … I do enjoy going out there and seeing everyone hitting going one through nine.”

With a one-run lead and two innings remaining, the A’s turned to Evan Scribner for two crucial outs before setting up Tyler Clippard for a four-out save. Clippard would get out of an eighth inning jam, but gave up the Houston comeback in the night to take his second loss of the season.

Though the Astros lit up the scoreboard with seven runs, manager AJ Hinch said his team relied a lot on opportunistic offense to pull off the comeback on the road:

“We weren’t necessarily firing on all cylinders, their bullpen had to be used a lot. … We were very opportunistic with the extra outs, so I expect (the A’s) to bounce back and play good defense. They’re a good team.”