The Oakland Athletics have a chance not only to push the visiting Houston Astros under .500 but also out of sight in the American League West race when the clubs complete a four-day, five-game series on Thursday afternoon.
After splitting a doubleheader on Tuesday, the teams battled on even terms once again on Wednesday until the final batter of the game, when Ramon Laureano’s walk-off single with two outs in the ninth inning gave Oakland a 3-2 win.
Also having captured the series opener on Monday, the A’s (26-15) have taken three of the first four from Houston (22-22) in the series to increase their hold on the AL West lead from 3 1/2 to 5 1/2 games.
A fourth A’s win on Thursday would give them a 7-3 season-series win and push the Astros 6 1/2 back with just 18 to play.
Houston got a big-time effort from rookie Luis Garcia in his first big-league start on Wednesday, and would like to see the same from another young right-hander, Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.91 ERA), in the series finale.
Urquidy, 25, pitched well in his one and only lifetime appearance against the A’s last season, allowing just one hit in five innings while striking out 10 in a 5-3 loss. The lone hit was a home run by Marcus Semien.
Garcia had a similar fate after also limiting the A’s to one hit in five innings on Wednesday. His bullpen blew a 2-0 lead, then served up the tie-breaker in the ninth.
A’s manager Bob Melvin noted afterward that he’s seen this before from his team, which has now recorded five walk-off wins this season.
“That’s kinda been the theme for us this year,” he observed. “We’ll look stagnant offensively for a while, then do just enough at the end. We always have a good feeling at home when we have a chance to win it.”
Oakland will send left-hander Sean Manaea (3-2, 5.09) after the knockout blow Thursday. He’s won his last three starts, allowing three runs in 15 1/3 innings.
Manaea hasn’t had much success against the Astros in his career, going 2-5 with a 3.48 ERA in 12 starts. He’s experienced particular issues with Martin Maldonado, who has gone 5-for-8, with two doubles, a triple and three RBIs, and Alex Bregman, who’s hit 6-for-20 with three homers.
Both teams hope for clearer air after smoke from several Northern California fires surprisingly made its way toward the coast and turned the Oakland skies an Astros-like orange all day Wednesday.
The wildfires, initially caused by recent rare lightning strikes in Northern California, are well to the east and north of Oakland.
“I was actually playing Jimi Hendrix today: ‘The Sky is Crying.’ The sky was crying today,” Astros manager Dusty Baker insisted before the game. “I thought I was going to go outside and see Marlon Brando in ‘Apocalypse Now.’ It’s a strange and eerie feeling.”
–Field Level Media