Astros shut out A’s to deny sweep

The Oakland Athletics have scored two-thirds of their second-half runs with two outs. The Houston Astros used the same attack to claim Wednesday’s series finale 7-0.

Behind two-out RBIs from Jason Castro (1), George Springer (2) and Carlos Correa (3), the Astros (51-44) escaped Oakland with a win, avoiding the sweep.

The A’s (42-53), who have scored 18 of their 27 post-break runs with two down, were never able to find that clutchest of hits. Khris Davis (in the first), Arismendy Alcantara (second) and Yonder Alonso (sixth) each came up empty in two-out at-bats with runners in scoring position. It is their first shutout loss since June 19.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the A’s clubhouse at the Oakland Coliseum.

Manager Bob Melvin acknowledged that two-out RBI hits are especially damaging:

“You’re one pitch away from feeling like you’re out of the inning, then there’s runs that are on the board. There’s a momentum factor to two-out hits, for sure.”

Starter Daniel Mengden (L, 1-5, 5.52 ERA) showed signs of recovery from his recent struggles, working around an early elevated pitch count and constant traffic to last five innings allowing three runs. After serving up 17 runs and 19 hits over 13-1/3 frames in his previous three starts, the rookie right-hander held Houston to just five hits, though he did issue five walks while striking out five.

The starter said that he is trying to throw his “best pitches with the best conviction”:

“Just trying to stay within myself — try not to think too much — and just continue to do what got me here.”

Houston jumped to an quick lead, tallying two runs in the first two frames behind four hits and four walks. They did strand five base runners in the early threats, however, finishing the game with 13 runners left on base.

The Oakland offense was held in check by Astros starter Doug Fister (W, 10-6, 3.42 ERA), who tossed 7 four-hit innings.

Fister entered the game with a 7-7 record and 3.09 ERA in 16 career starts against the A’s, and was at his best, according to All-Star catcher Stephen Vogt:

“That’s the best we’ve ever seen him. All of his stuff was moving a lot — staying away from the middle of the plate. He was throwing some really, really good sequences out there.”

Marcus Semien was credited with a throwing error in the seventh, and has now committed an error in each of the past three games. The A’s as a team have now been saddled with an error in a season-high seven straight games — coming on the heels of their season-best 15-game errorless streak.

The Astros, who were paced by Correa’s three RBIs, added a pair of runs in the eighth and ninth innings to seal the decision. The Green and Gold was led by Josh Reddick, who finished 2-for-4.

2014 American League batting champ Jose Altuve arrived in Oakland batting .346 and will depart with a league-leading .357 average, thanks to an 8-for-12 series — 2-for-3 with two walks on Wednesday.

While the 5-foot-5, four-time All-Star has earned the moniker “Gigante” (Giant) in Houston, the A’s players and coaches likened him more to a wizard.

Said Vogt:

“Altuve is some kind of special hitter. He’s got a magic wand — there’s no way to get him out, he’s got to get himself out. That’s a dangerous hitter to play against, and that’s why he’s one of the best, if not the best, hitter in the big leagues.”

The skipper added:

“He’s one of the best in the league, without a doubt. He doesn’t have to hit it hard to get a hit — he’s got a magic wand. We’ve seen him really good, often.”

Next up for the A’s is a four-game set with the Tampa Bay Rays (37-57); Sonny Gray (4-8, 5.12 ERA) will look to right the Oakland ship, facing Matt Moore (5-7, 4.33 ERA).


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.