BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
In a battle for first place with a playoff like atmosphere, the A’s jumped out to an early lead Sunday afternoon before succumbing to a barrage of home runs to the Houston Astros 9-4 before a crowd of 29,143 at the Coliseum.
With the win, the Astros escaped Oakland retaining the lead in the AL West by a game over the upstart A’s. In spite of the loss, Oakland still managed to shave a game off of Houston’s lead over the course of the three game series, and improve to 15-1-2 in their last 18 series.
Oakland got off a a quick start with the help of solo home runs from Matt Chapman and Khris Davis in the first inning off of Justin Verlander to go up 2-0, but the defending World Series champs bounced back with four of their own in the third behind a three-run home by by Yuli Gurriel to take a 4-2 lead with the help of a shaky performance from Sean Manaea.
Davis got to Verlander again in the bottom of the third, launching his 36th homer of the season to deep right center after Nick Martini opened the frame with a single to tie the game at four, but it was all downhill from there for Oakland.
Manaea (11-9) was rocked again in the fourth, giving up a home run to Evan Gattis. He gave up another run in the fifth, allowing three straight hits to open the inning beginning with a lead-off triple to Martin Maldonado. He left trialing 6-4, finishing his day having yielded six earned runs in four plus innings of work. He came in with an ERA of 3.44 and saw it rise to 3.70 after only sticking around long enough to throw 67 pitches.
Verlander (12-8) also lacked his best stuff, giving up the three long balls before settling down to make it into the sixth. With the help of the Astros offensive support, the future Hall of Famer earned his 200th career win on his third try. In his 13th full season, the right-hander’s record now stands at an highly impressive 200-122.
Maldonado and Alex Bregman went deep on Emilio Pagán in the seventh, and Marwin Gonzalez iced it with another solo blast off Pagán in the eighth to close the scoring. Oakland next faces the Texas Rangers, another division rival, for three games at the Coliseum beginning tomorrow night. Bartolo Colon (7-10, 5.19), the 45 year old Dominican who two weeks ago passed Nicaragua’s Dennis Martinez for most career wins by a Latin American-born pitcher (now 247 and counting), takes the mound for Texas against the A’s Mike Fiers (8-6, 3.38) in the opener. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05PM.