A’s comeback bid stalls in tight loss to Houston

For the third time in as many days, a rookie Oakland hurler put his team in position to win. For the third time it wasn’t enough, as the Athletics fell 6-5 to the Houston Astros Wednesday afternoon.

Daniel Mengden was overpowering early. But, after leaving the game with two down in the sixth he watched the bullpen stumble for the third straight contest. Crushed by the barbaric power of Evan Gattis, who pulverized a pair of home runs (29, 30), Mengden and the A’s (66-85) fell victim to a second sweep in the past two series’ against the Astros (81-71)

After scoring just three runs on six hits in the first two games of the series, the Oakland offense enjoyed what seemed like an offensive explosion against Collin McHugh (W, 12-10, 4.61 ERA) and the Houston bullpen, scoring four behind seven hits.

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

Manager Bob Melvin said that his offense, which scored 65 runs during the seven-game road trip prior to the sweep, was the problem, not the pitching:

“(The pitchers) did great. That wasn’t the issue. At times, our starting pitching has been the issue, but certainly not in this series. That’s a group that swings the bat really well and, overall, we held them down pretty good.”

Mengden (L, 2-8, 5.74 ERA), who finished having allowed four runs in 5-2/3, could not have asked for a better way to begin the game. After striking out lead-off man George Springer on three pitches, the Houston native blew away the Astro bats the first time through the order, collecting three strikeouts while retiring the first 10 batters faced.

“I felt pretty good. Locating well. (Threw) first-pitch strikes really well. Just feeling more comfortable every outing I have.”

Following a second Springer strikeout to start the fourth things began to fall apart for Mengden, who had thrown just 31 pitches.

He worked out of a jam, stranding a pair to escape the fourth unscathed, but the slope did not get any less slippery from there. His only two walks of the day presented the Astros with a rally for free in the fifth, but Springer’s third whiff ended the rally with Houston managing just one run, scored on a Jake Marisnick ground-out three pitches after a wild pitch moved Marwin Gonzalez to third. It was the sixth, though, that was Mengden and the A’s undoing.

Three consecutive hits from the heart of the Houston order was punctuated with a two-run home run from Gattis, who added his eighth against the A’s this season with a solo shot in the eighth, sinking the A’s into a 4-1 hole and forcing Mengden, with his seven strikeouts and six hits allowed, from the fray.

Both Melvin and his starter agreed that it wasn’t the curveball to Gattis that hurt in the inning, rather an 0-2 fastball down the middle to Carlos Correa.

Said Mengden:

“I thought I threw a pretty good curveball to Gattis, and he went down and got it. Besides that, I was executing the whole game.”

The skipper addressed the season Gattis has had against his squad:

“They have quite a few guys that have been good against us. You run through the middle of that order … you’re hoping to limit the damage.”

A snake-bit Oakland offense were robbed of a run, when a fourth-inning drive from Brett Eibner bounded into the seats after sailing over the head of Springer in right. Bruce Maxwell added a single run with a double in the sixth, but both threats ended with runners in scoring position.

They were finally able to post a crooked number in the seventh, behind RBI ground-outs from Stephen Vogt and Ryon Healy. The inability of the two and three-hole hitters to pick up a clutch hit once again dampened an other wise promising rally.

The A’s bats were paced by the afternoon’s clean-up hitter Danny Valencia, whose modest 1-for-3 performance was supplanted with a walk and a pair of runs scored. Along with Gattis, who drove in all three of his RBIs on long home runs, Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve added two hits apiece.

With recently promoted closer Ken Giles unavailable after finishing both Monday and Tuesday’s wins, the save opportunity went to former Athletic Luke Gregerson, who saw a run score on an error from the normally sure-handed Altuve. Pinch-runner Arismendy Alcantara was caught stealing second — upheld after a crew chief review by what appeared to be the slightest of margins — to end the game and give Gregerson the save (15).

Melvin said that, like the first two games of the series, the deciding plays came down to a matter of inches. And his team was constantly just short:

“There were a lot of plays in this game that were just a few inches one way or the other. If we get them, we’re probably talking about a different game right now.”


  • With his loss, Mengden will finish the season with an 0-7 record at home. He becomes the first A’s pitcher to go winless at home with six or more decisions in Oakland history, and matches Rip Coleman, who went 0-7 for the Kansas City A’s in 1959.
  • The A’s have now lost a franchise record seven consecutive against Houston. They finish with a 4-5 record when hosting the Astros.
  • Gattis reached the 30-home run plateau for the first time in his career. His previous career-high came a season ago, when he launched 27. His eight dingers against the A’s is the most he has hit against any one team this season.
  • MLB hit leader Altuve (202) logged multi-hit game No. 59 of the season, with his 2-for-5 performance. He trails only Mookie Betts (63) of the Boston Red Sox (87-64) in the category.
  • After a league-worst 19-35 record in one-run games a season ago, the A’s have improved greatly. A trio of one-run defeats against the Astros, though, leave them back below .500 at 23-26.

Next up

After an off day on Thursday, the A’s will host the Texas Rangers (90-62) in the final series in Oakland this season. Kendall Graveman (10-10, 4.21 ERA) will take the ball in Friday’s series opener.

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.