For the second time in a week, the A’s season is down to one final game.
The A’s have lost the first two games of the best-of-five American League Division Series against the Houston Astros, and they either win Wednesday or the season’s over. The same would be true Thursday and Friday.
“Well, we just have to win tomorrow, and then we’ll worry about the next day after that,” manager Bob Melvin said after more failures from his hitters and starting pitchers. “So, we put all our efforts into tomorrow, and just think about tomorrow.
“Anything further than that is really kind of a distraction.”
Well, that and George Springer. The Astros center fielder had four hits Monday and came back with a pair of homers Tuesday, including a two-run shot off Oakland starter Sean Manaea. Springer had never homered off Manaea in 35 career at-bats, but he couldn’t have picked a better time. It came just after Khris Davis had given the A’s a 1-0 lead with his second homer in just over 24 hours.
“Our backs are against the wall,” Manaea said. “Now we have to come out fighting tomorrow. I think we’re ready for that.”
The A’s brass met for a while after the game, settling on rookie lefty Jesús Luzardo to make Wednesday’s 1235 pm. start.
The Astros are happy to be where they’re at, but manager Dusty Baker was quite succinct – two wins is not the same as three wins.
“I’ve been up 2-0 before,” Baker said. “You’ve got to put them away when you have a chance. If you let them off the matt, these guys know how to win. We’d like to win it tomorrow and not get any drama in Game 4 or 5. We know it’s not done yet.”
Oakland was in fact “ready for that,” as Manaea phrased it, after losing Game 1 last week against the Chicago White Sox in the best-of-three AL wild card. The A’s came back to win back-to-back games against the Sox to advance.
In the wake of Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Astros, the A’s haven’t given much, if any, evidence that they are ready to put down the hammer. They’d done well against left-handed pitching all season, but against the Astros’ Framber Valdez Tuesday, they were outmatched.
What’s the plan?
“Oh, just regroup and get back at it tomorrow,” Chad Pinder said. The third baseman, who joined Davis in providing the A’s their offense was a monster homer to right-center. “There are possibly three game left, and we’ve just got to go play our game. We have nothing to lose from here, just go out there and keep trying to string together good at-bats.”
That’ll be a change. Beyond the Davis and Pinder homers, there were no stringing of good at-bats. Valdez scarcely broke a sweat. He threw 103 pitches, allowed just four base runners beyond the homers. He retired the final 10 men he faced in order. That was an affront to an A’s team that had nine regular-season wins against lefty starters, second in the AL to the White Sox.
“His ball was moving all over the place,” Melvin said. “He had a really good breaking ball. He could throw it for strikes; he could throw it for chase. You could see he got more confidence as the game went along and wound up giving them seven innings. I didn’t think at the beginning he would be able to do that, but he did.”
One of Oakland’s problems in Game 1 Monday was their failure to get any hits with men in scoring position. They solved that Tuesday by not putting any batters in scoring position, the four base runners beyond the homers being singles. Two of those were erased by double play grounders from Tommy La Stella and Matt Olson, and another runner, Stephen Piscotty, out trying to advance when a Valdez pitch rolled away from Maldonado, the catcher
Meanwhile, Manaea took his second postseason loss in as many years. After a 2-1, 3.04 September that included seven one-run innings against Houston on Sept. 10, Manaea let a 1-0 lead slip away on Springer’s two-out homer in the third. He’d go on to allow a one-out RBI single to Kyle Tucker in the fourth. And after Pinder’s homer got the deficit down to a run, Manaea was taken out of the park by Martin Maldonado.
It didn’t help that Manaea’s relief, Yusmeiro Petit’s first batter was Springer, who homered again.
“It’s my job to go out there and pitch, and I didn’t do that today,” Manaea said. “It was just a couple of bad pitches, honestly.
“I know this team will figure this thing out and turn it around.”
Oakland’s season was built on late-inning explosions, beginning with Olson’s walkoff grand slam on opening day from Olson that beat the Angels. They’ve worked on making that part of their game plan, but the Astros have demolished it.
The A’s had just one base runner after the fifth inning Monday, a walk, and Tuesday was even worse, no base runners after Davis’ second hit of the day in the fourth inning until Marcus Semien worked closer Ryan Pressly for a leadoff walk in the ninth. It turned out to be a 1-2-3 inning anyway, with Pinder grounding into a game-ending double play.
Now it’s up to Luzardo, making his first start as a 23-year-old – his birthday was Sept. 30, the day after his start against the White Sox – and the offense.
It’s pretty simple. Win or it’s over.
Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3
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