Astros pile on Gray early, pull away from A’s late

Auditioning for perhaps his top suitor this trade season, Sonny Gray showed the Houston Astros his intestinal fortitude.

Gray was lit up in the first, surrendering five hits, two walks and five runs to the Astros (48-24). He settled in, though, giving up just two hits and two walks over the next four, finishing his five-inning battle with the American League’s top offense keeping the Athletics in the game.

Oakland made things interesting, chipping away at the deficit one run at a time. But, alas, the hill became too high to climb with three more late as the A’s (31-40) fell 8-4 Tuesday night.

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

Gray (L, 2-3, 4.84 ERA) took the blame for the loss, saying:

“I really dug us a big hole there in the first. And, against a team like that, and an offense like that, giving them a five-spot in the first is tough on the rest of the guys.”

Manager Bob Melvin added:

“You have to hold them down for the entire game for the most part, especially with their pitching. But, we did, we kept going, found some good at-bats and scored some runs, got ourselves back into the game where we’re one at-bat away from tying the game.”

Gray couldn’t have asked for a worse start to the game.

George Springer got things started immediately, launching his franchise record-tying eighth leadoff home run (21) of the season. Things began to snowball for Gray, who walked Josh Reddick on four pitches in front of a bunt single from Jose Altuve. But, after a momentary reprieve in the form of a double-play grounder from Carlos Correa, the Oakland hurler lost control.

The Astros followed with a double, a walk and another double. The cherry was slapped on top of the sundae by Alex Bregman, whose chopper up the middle scored two rounding out a 10-batter, 38-pitch taxing of Gray.

Catcher Stephen Vogt said Gray’s misses weren’t bad pitches, they just missed a bit up:

“That’s a good lineup over there, so when they smell blood they usually take it and run with it.”

Though his misses weren’t terrible, according to Vogt, Gray said he has to figure out how to keep the inning from spiraling out of control, something that has been a weakness of his all season:

“I’ve got to figure out a way to shut the inning down when I get to two outs. That’s something that I’m going to try to get better at in the future.”

But the beleaguered ace found his groove, powering his way through 5 five-run frames. He allowed 12 base runners — seven hits, four walks and a hit batsman — while striking out five. His offense answered the first-inning outburst, albeit a modest answer.

With two down, another A’s trade piece, Jed Lowrie, beat the shift by lining a single to left. Khris Davis looked to have added another to his long list of impressive opposite-field blasts, but the towering fly ball banged off the National League out-of-town scoreboard giving him an RBI double instead.

Chad Pinder did reach the seats in the third, sending a drive 448 feet, according to Dinger Tracker, off the window of a luxury box in left-center for the solo homer (9).

Oakland continued to chip away, picking up single runs in the fourth and seventh. But a 1-for-13 team performance with runners in scoring position kept the A’s from tying or taking a lead.

Unable to impact the game with a crooked number, the A’s seemed fine with battling back one at a time, eventually knocking out Houston starter Francis Martes (W, 2-0, 5.02 ERA), who was tagged with six hits and three runs in 5-2/3 innings. The bullpen held up its end of the bargain until the eighth.

After a hit and two walks, the Astros got what has eluded the A’s for much of the season — a big-money hit. With two down, Correa jumped all over first-pitch fastball following a four-pitch walk, lining a single into the right-center field gap putting two runs on Liam Hendriks‘ record. Just for good measure, Houston added another in the ninth.

The skipper said that, after fighting back to within one run, the two-run double zapped any and all momentum in the home dugout:

“Obviously, the two runs they got against Hendriks kinda deflates you a little bit, but the guys battled back, battled hard, we just gave up too many runs in the first inning.”

Khris was the only Athletic to collect multiple hits, going 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles. Houston, on the other hand, got two-hit performances  from Josh Reddick (2-for-4), Carlos Beltran (2-for-4) and Bregman (2-for-3).

As for Gray, whether he gets traded or not has yet to be seen. And while he was the first to admit that locking in mentally is something he needs to work on, his fighter’s spirit is alive and well, as is his stuff:

“My stuff is there. My stuff is good, my stuff is there. I think now, moving forward, it’s going to be a mentality thing. I’ve got to figure it out.”

On deck

The A’s continue their search for a home win over the AL-leading Astros Wednesday. They will send Sean Manaea (6-3, 4.01 ERA), who boasts a career 1.71 ERA in five starts against Houston — though he is without a win in those games. Mike Fiers (4-2, 4.00 ERA) will take the mound on the Astros’ behalf.

Notes

Prior to the game, the A’s announced that they reached contract agreements with 31 of their 40 selections from the 2017 First-Year Player Draft. Among those was first-round pick Austin Beck (No. 6 overall), who was given an A’s franchise record $5.3 million signing bonus. … The A’s new stadium would generate $3.05 billion, along with 2,000 construction jobs, according to the Economic Impact Report released by the team Tuesday. The EIS is the latest of several steps necessary before the team can request planning approval from the Oakland City Council. … Ryan Dull (right knee) is expected to throw off the mound as early as next week, according to manager Bob Melvin. Dull has not thrown from the mound since injuring his knee in a game against the Boston Red Sox on May 19. … Kendall Graveman (right shoulder) is on a timetable similar to that of Dull. He is expected to thrown off the mound next weak as well, Melvin said. … Former Cal Bear and journeyman Michael Brady, originally drafted in 2009 as a second baseman, made his major league debut pitching the ninth and allowing a Carlos Beltran homer.


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.