Not a statement game. A statement series.
The A’s won the series from the World Series champs. They took two out of three games, and have taken two consecutive series from the Houston Astros with one more to go. They have shown the Astros and the American League they are for real and can contend with the best. If they don’t win the AL West – don’t count them out – they are a ferocious Wild Card contender. These teams will play a three-game series against each other in Houston starting Aug. 27.
The A’s lost the game 9-4 Sunday afternoon and fell one game behind the Astros for first place in the division, which with a month and a half to go seems a mere footnote. A’s starting pitcher Sean Manaea was the loser – his record is 11-9 — and Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander the winner – his record is 12-8.
“Granted, they were handing it to us earlier in the season,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said during his postgame press conference. “But, here recently, we have played the Astros pretty well. Before, we would hope to win those games against them. Now, we expect to win.”
The A’s didn’t have much hope earlier in the season — they lost eight of their first nine games against Houston. At their lowest point, the A’s trailed the Astros by 12 games and were in fourth place in the division. That was June 18.
Since then, Oakland’s record is 38-14, while Houston’s is 26-24. Both teams have 38 games remaining in the regular season. The A’s will face seven teams above .500. The Astros will face eight.
The A’s currently have a 3½-game lead over the Seattle Mariners for the second Wild Card spot. If the A’s make the playoffs, it will be the first time since 2014. That year, they lost in the Wild Card game to the Kansas City Royals.
“The other teams know we’re good,” A’s catcher Jonathan Lucroy said at his locker after the game. “We’re a legit team. They know they have to have their best stuff to beat us. Verlander was really good today. We got on him early, but their lineup battled back.”
The A’s got to Verlander with one out in the bottom of the first. The batter was third baseman Matt Chapman, the hottest hitter on the team. He has a 15-game hitting streak.
Chapman fell behind Verlander 0-2, then took the next three pitches, two of which may have been borderline strikes. Home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn called all three balls.
“Chapman’s not chasing,” Melvin said. “That has been THE difference. He’s making them throw it over the plate.”
Verlander threw Chapman a fastball over the plate on a 3-2 count, and Chapman crushed it to center field for home run No. 17. Two batters later, designated hitter Khris Davis hit his 35th home run of the season, and the A’s took a 2-0 lead.
That was the score with two outs in the top of the third. Manaea had retired seven of the first eight hitters he faced. He was cruising, but then he gave up four hits in a row. The fourth hit was a home run by Astros second baseman Yuli Gurriel, who hooked the ball around the left-field foul pole, and gave Houston a 4-2 lead.