The Oakland A’s, who manipulated late-inning offense and late-inning pitching into the best record in the American League West Division in 2020, got bounced from the AL Division Series because they couldn’t locate either of those elements of their game when the most needed to.
Add to that, the starting pitching, which had been reasonably impactful but not dominant in the regular season, imploded once again with Frankie Montas squandering an early 3-0 lead.
The final blow was an 11-6 loss in Game 4 Thursday in Dodger Stadium at the hands of the Houston Astros. For the fourth time in four days, the Astros spotted the A’s a lead. For the fourth time in four days, the Astros came back to jump in front. And for the third time in four days, the Astros held the A’s off down the stretch.
For the sixth time in nine years the A’s have made the postseason, but they haven’t made it past the ALDS since the 2006 season, a decade and a half ago. The was a season, pre-COVD-19 the A’s had been pointing toward as their best chance to get deep into the postseason, perhaps even make the World Series. But now, with shortstop Marcus Semien, outfielder Robbie Grossman and relievers Joakim Soria, Yusmeiro Petit and closer Liam Hendriks all among the A’s dozen potential free agents, the team Oakland fields in 2021 is likely to look much different.
And the Astros, who had a losing record (29-31) in 2020 after three straight AL West title, have advanced to the American League Championship Series for the for the fourth consecutive season.
Ramón Laureano, whose pep talk Wednesday led to a Game 3 win, got Game 4 started against Astros starter Zack Greinke with a three-run homer in the second. The A’s had a chance to add to that when Matt Olson hammered what he thought was a solo shot in the top of the fourth, but former Oakland outfielder Josh Reddick made a homer-saving catch above the low wall in the right field corner, blunting the A’s momentum.
From the point of that catch on, the Astros would outscore the A’s 11-3.
Montas, who’d allowed just one hit in the first three innings in part because he was spotting his curve where he wanted it in the strike zone, lost command of the curve, and of the game, in the fourth. The result was a five-run inning on a two-run homer by Michael Brantley and a three-run blast by Carlos Correa.
It was part of a pattern. No A’s starter made it through the fifth innings, they combined to give up 16 runs and each of the four – Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea and Jesús Luzardo before Montas – allowed two homers.
Laureano would homer again as the A’s got close a 5-4 in the top of the fifth, but the Oakland bullpen gave up two runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth. It was the last of the record-setting 12 ALDS homers the A's would hit, but before the day was over, the Astros would get to a dozen, too.
A’s manager Bob Melvin sent pitching coach Scott Emerson out to make the pitching change, something his almost never does, and Emerson would be out there as the A’s cycled through J.B. Wendelken, Mike Minor and Lou Trivino.
Brantley would homer in the fifth and Correa added RBI hits in both the fifth and sixth to keep the foot on the accelerator. Jose Altuve would hit a two-run bomb in the seventh as the Astros could smell a return to the ALCS.
Meanwhile, the A’s wouldn’t get a hit after Laureano’s second homer until a double by Robbie Grossman in the seventh with two out, by which time Oakland’s deficit was five runs. Oakland would threaten later in the inning when Marcus Semien thought he might have hit one out with two on, but the ball didn’t carry for once and the Kyle Tucker caught the ball with his back to the wall.
Semien, in what may have been his final at-bat with the A's, and Tommy Las Stella both singled home runs with two out in the ninth.
Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3
Click the "follow" button in the top right corner to join the conversation on Inside the Athletics on SI. Access and comment on featured stories and start your own conversations and post external links on our community page.