Astros erupt late against A’s in marathon victory

Sean Manaea didn’t allow a single hit Saturday. He also didn’t get through the sixth inning, and was forced to watch his bullpen serve up a 10-6 loss.

The Houston Astros were never out of the game, despite trailing early and being held hitless into the seventh. And after posting crooked numbers in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth, they left a stunned Oakland Athletics club reeling in search of answers.

Those answers were not too hard to find, however, as the Oakland pitching staff combined to throw 189 pitches and hand out 10 free bases — eight walks and two hit batsmen — in the nearly four-hour marathon.

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

Manager Bob Melvin summed it up simply, saying things “got away” from his A’s (5-7):

“It’s tough to be positive about a game like that. We played so well and did everything right for five innings, then couldn’t play any worse, and did everything wrong.”

Forced from the game by a massive free pass total — five walks and a hit batsman — and a mounting pitch count, Manaea (ND, 0-1, 5.51 ERA) finished with 5 innings pitched, six walks and 98 pitches.

Once again, extended lapses in command did in the “Throwin’ Samoan,” who set down nine straight Houston hitters from the third to fifth. The streak, though, began after a walk to lead off the third, and ended with three straight to begin the sixth.

Melvin was impressed with his starter’s early stuff. So was Manaea, but he blamed the loss on his own letdown:

“I’ve got to figure out a way to deal with these walks — get it figured out mentally. It was a tough one, and completely on me. Everyone is just sitting around waiting on long innings, then (I put) the bullpen in a bad situation like that.”

The Oakland offense got out to an early lead, pushing across three runs in the second.

Following an RBI double from Yonder Alonso, Jaff Decker came up clutch lining an opposite-field RBI single on the sixth pitch he saw in his first at-bat as an Athletic.

With several chances to pull away early, the Oakland offense was unable to find another clutch hit. It finished the afternoon stranding eight men on base, and going 3-for-11 (.273) with runners in scoring position after opening 2-for-2 in such situations.

Things were turned on their ear in the fourth, when the A’s responded to a bases-loaded, no-out situation by striking out twice and popping out to leave all three runners on.

Decker, who finished 3-for-4 with a triple and an RBI, said he thought that his team’s inability to cash in and take control was turning point:

“Any 90 (feet) you give up when you’re on D, and anytime you can’t drive a run in, it’s going to show up later. But, we put our self in good position all game. … I felt like the approach was there and we could have done a lot more damage.”

The center fielder was involved in the sixth, when a pair of free 90’s allowed the Astros (8-4) to get on the board.

Houston loaded the bases when Manaea lost all control of the strike zone. Of the 15 pitches the Oakland starter threw to the first for hitter in the frame, only three found the strike zone.

Manaea said that the free rally was something that had been coming:

“I was locating my fastball alright, I just couldn’t throw my changeup for a strike. They realized that and didn’t offer at any of the changeups in the dirt. It was just a little sporadic at times, and in the sixth inning it all just went south.”

In the same situation the A’s failed to capitalize on in the fourth, Carlos Correa sent a liner to Adam Rosales. A late knuckle, though, allowed the ball to glide right past the shortstop’s glove and into center field. As George Springer crossed the plate to give Houston its first run, Decker allowed the ball to trickle past him for Oakland’s second error on the play, sending Alex Bregman home.

Ryan Dull came on in relief and was able to stop the bleeding, but he was the only A’s bullpener to do so.

Houston tagged the tandem of Liam Hendriks. Santiago Casilla (L, 0-1, 3.60), Sean Doolittle (BS, 1) and Frankie Montas with all eight if its hits and eight of nine runs in just three innings. The group gave up two runs apiece.

The beneficiary of the late onslaught was Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr., who was tapped for eight hits and five runs in 4-1/3, but due to the comeback was let off the hook. Will Harris (W, 1-0, 0.00 ERA) was credited with the win, tossing a perfect seventh.

Oakland added three late, including two on solo home runs from Trevor Plouffe (2) and Khris Davis (6).

The Astros late attack was paced by Norichika Aoki (2-for-4 with one run and two RBIs).

On deck

After being battered by bloopers in his season debut, Jharel Cotton (1-1, 3.97 ERA) held the Kansas City Royals scoreless over 7 two-hit innings his last time out. He will look to build off that momentum facing Houston veteran Charlie Morton (0-1, 4.09 ERA) in an afternoon interlude Easter Sunday.

Notes

On Adam Rosales‘ error in the sixth, the Oakland Athletics extended their streak of consecutive games committing at least one error to nine. The A’s also extended their league-leading error total to 15. … Marcus Semien was not in the starting lineup for the first time this season due to a sore right wrist. Manager Bob Melvin said he was diagnosed with a bone contusion. He will undergo a CT scan on Monday. … Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa was hit by a pitch on the right hand in the ninth inning. He departed the game with no diagnosis made available.


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