Barber: A's have Astros just where they want them
OAKLAND — The A’s lost 4-2 to the Texas Rangers at the Coliseum on Wednesday afternoon. Less than an hour after the final out here, the Astros wrapped up a 10-7 win at Seattle to bump Oakland out of a first-place tie in the American League Western Division.
In other words, the underdog A’s have ’em right where they want ’em.
I’ve covered a lot of baseball, and there aren’t many neutral clubhouses after a game. Winning teams blare music, shoot Nerf basketballs and toss around zingers. Losing teams set their jaws, glare and offer clipped answers to awkward questions. It’s a high-contrast landscape. Not a lot of grayscale.
The A’s clubhouse wasn’t a happy place after Wednesday’s loss, but it didn’t resemble a funeral service, either. Losing pitcher Edwin Jackson managed some smiles, and catcher Jonathan Lucroy had a memorable quip when he said of the Oakland Coliseum, “We have a built-in home-field advantage here, because it’s a graveyard.”
In general, the mood wasn’t particularly up or down. It was business casual, for a lot of good reasons.
For one thing, the A’s had taken two of three games from the Rangers, just as they had taken two of three from the Astros before that, and two of three from the Mariners before that, and two of three from the Angels before that.
“If we win two of three the rest of the year, we’re winning the World Series,” said Lucroy, the noted backstop and mathematician.
The A’s just conquered the entire AL West. In their most recent 19 series, dating back to June 15, they are 16-1-2. It’s a number that defies reason. And despite Wednesday’s setback, Oakland has the best record in the majors since June 16, at 42-15. No reason to get bent out of shape, then, by one loss to the Rangers.
Another reason the A’s avoided a post-defeat winter is that they didn’t go quietly in this one. They fought back and made things highly interesting, as they’ve been doing all season.
Jackson didn’t have good stuff Wednesday. His slider hung high for most of the day, and he had trouble locating pitches. When Jackson left the game following Adrian Beltre’s RBI single in the fifth inning, Oakland was down 4-0.
But not out. The bullpen buckled down, cumulatively going 4⅔ scoreless innings and striking out eight Rangers while surrendering just two hits and one walk.
That allowed the A’s to creep back into the game, and they loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth before Nick Martini’s check-swing strikeout ended the effort. It’s hard to be sad when you go down battling like that.
“We were one big hit away,” A’s shortstop Marcus Semien said. “(If) we hit a ball in the gap, three runs could score, game over. We’ve done it before. Even when E-Jax was pulled, still felt like we were gonna win the game.”
But here’s the real reason the A’s were entitled to feel buoyant after a loss: They were accepting their natural place in the order of the MLB universe.
This team has powerful bats and powerful arms, but the A’s aren’t front-runners. They’re classic upstarts.