Any magic left over from Oakland’s seven-game, 65-run road trip seemed to vanish Monday night, as the Athletics could muster no separation between themselves and the Houston Astros before coughing up three late runs en route to a 4-2 loss.
Starter Jharel Cotton continued his sparkling rookie run, holding the Astros (79-71) to two hits and one run over 6 innings. From his perch on the bench, though, he watched his slim lead evaporate at the hands of a late Houston surge. The eventual loss went to closer Ryan Madson (L, 5-7, 3.65 ERA), who has been saddled with each of Oakland’s last two losses.
The A’s (66-84) were stymied by Brad Peacock, who shut the door after solo home runs to Ryon Healy and Bruce Maxwell. The win went to former Athletic Luke Gregerson (W, 4-1, 2.98 ERA), who worked around a walk for a scoreless eighth, with Ken Giles getting the save (12).
Despite much of the reliable late-inning relief contingent being unavailable, manager Bob Melvin lifted his starter after just 6 innings and 75 pitches, with preventing overworking his young starting staff likely on his mind.
Cotton (ND, 1-0, 1.50 ERA) harbored no ill-will over the call:
“It’s in my best interest. The coaching staff knows what they want out of me, and they know how to protect me — they have a plan for me.”
With bullpen stalwarts Sean Doolittle and Liam Hendriks among the unavailable, the eighth inning instead went to the duo of Daniel Coulombe and Zach Neal who combined to allow a game-tying run, and needed to be rescued from a two-on, two-out situation by Madson. The closer, who has been asked to work beyond three outs just four time previously this season, was at a lack of sharpness upon heading back to the mound, and was tagged for three hits and two runs.
When he was in the game, Cotton was nearly untouchable.
Even though, as his catcher Maxwell said, he didn’t have his normal “A” stuff:
“His stuff wasn’t spot on, like it normally is. But, at the same time, we worked around it. … I just told him to focus, we’ll work around it. And he did a magnificent job of adjusting, and kept us in the ballgame.”
Not only was her forced to use his less-than-perfect stuff, the Astros forced him to work even harder entering with a solid gameplan — don’t swing at the change-up.
Said the starter:
“Today it was mostly about the cutter. They were spitting on the change-up — I guess they know my scouting report.”
Riding that cutter, which was often registered in the low-90s, Cotton not only kept away from the barrels of the explosive Houston bats, he avoided them completely — collecting a career-high six strikeouts.
In his toughest frame, the fourth, the 24-year-old righty danced through the potent heart of the Astros order, allowing a single to reigning Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa after coaxing a routine groundout from Jose Altuve. Two innings after Evan Gattis had notched the first run of the game with a solo home run (28), Cotton got the hulking designated hitter to wave wildly at a 3-2 cutter below the zone for strikeout No. 4 to end the threat.
The A’s starter coasted from there, retiring his final seven batters.
“It was one pitch. I told myself, ‘just keep attacking, you’ve got a lot of ballgame left,’ and I went out there and did that.”
Gattis’ second-inning homer — a line drive over the 388-foot marker on the 15-foot-high wall in left-center — was countered immediately by the otherwise quiet Oakland offense.
After an innocent ground-out from Khris Davis, the red-hot Healy extended his current hit streak to 10 games with a towering fly-ball homer (10), landing on the second set of stairs beyond the 367-foot marker in straight-away left field. With the hit, the third baseman reached a hit streak of 10 or more games for a second time.
Two batters later, Cotton’s battery mate jumped all over a 1-1 hanging slider, sending a liner over the wall in left-center for the first big fly of his young career.
Of the opposite-field bomb, Maxwell said:
“That’s where a lot of my power is. … It felt good to finally connect on one.”
While a Neal blown save (1) robbed Cotton of a much-deserved win, it saved Peacock (ND, 0-0, 2.86 ERA) from an undeserved loss. The 28-year-old journeyman continued his solid return to the big leagues tossing 5-1/3 frames to hold the A’s to three hits, including both home runs, while recording two walks and two strikeouts.
Finishing the game 2-for-4 and scoring the game’s final run, Correa carried his team to a win it needed to remain postseason relevant. Aside from the second-inning homers, only Danny Valencia (1-for-3) could work a hit against Peacock and the Houston bullpen.
The Green and Gold look to find their winning way again on Tuesday when they send to the hill Sean Manaea (6-9, 4.23 ERA), who is 0-1 with a 2.35 ERA in two starts against their divisional adversary.
Looking to keep Houston’s quickly-fading postseason hopes alive will be rookie Joe Musgrove (3-4, 4.71 ERA), who collected a win behind 5-1/3 shutout innings in his only previous outing against the A’s.