OAKLAND — The last thing the A’s probably wanted to see in the ninth inning on Wednesday was the Astros slugger Yordan Alvarez heading for the plate with the bases loaded in a close game. The pressure couldn’t have been higher for Oakland, who saw Alvarez strike 913 feet of circuit at the Colosseum only two days earlier and had nowhere to put it.
The A’s brought in a southpaw to face Alvarez, but the odds were in the slugger’s favor no matter who was on the mound. Alvarez fell behind in the count, 0-2, before ripping a base-pumping double into the right field gap to cap a four-point rally in the ninth that sent the Astros to a 5-4 victory from behind and a series sweep.
“The biggest thing is I just didn’t want to hit anything on the ground,” said Alvarez, who is 8-for-16 in his last four games. “I didn’t want to hit a ball for a double play. I wanted to hit him in the air, but he threw a pitch and I was able to get my hands up quickly and I was able to do it.
The Astros, who were 0-16 when trailing eight innings entering Wednesday, improved to 4-2 on their road trip, which ends in a three-game series beginning Friday. in Kansas City. Houston is 18-12 on the road and improved to a season high with 15 games over .500 (33-18).
“If you want to be a champion team, you have to have wins from behind,” said manager Dusty Baker. “I wish I hadn’t waited too late, but a win is a win. The guys have been through a big time. Boy, what can I say? These guys didn’t give up.
It appeared the Astros wouldn’t need any sort of late-game heroism, with the way Justin Verlander threw the ball. After his worst start to the season, Verlander took a no-hitter in the seventh inning for the second time this season – only to lose the no-hitter bid and the lead on consecutive pitches in the seventh.
An RBI double on the left field line from Elvis Andrus with two outs was Oakland’s first hit and tied the game, before Christian Bethancourt smashed the next pitch for a two-run homer – his first circuit in almost six years – in the vault the A’s ahead, 3-1. Verlander admitted he felt deflated about losing the no-no and his head.
“[Andrus] slips the ball inside the third base line and the first baseman gets to score because he was perfectly placed – that’s just baseball,” he said. “It happens sometimes. But to throw a bad pitch and go from seven innings, one run, to seven innings, three runs, and put our guys behind – definitely deflating. It showed a lot of courage for our guys to keep posting after that and to have quality bats and find a way.
Verlander, who allowed six runs on 10 hits, including four homers, in six innings Friday in Seattle, beat 18 of the 20 first Oakland batters he faced. His slider, which he threw 1.9 mph faster than his season average, was terrific and generated eight puffs from 16 swings. He later said he tinkered with his grip to get some consistency with the pitch.
“We won, we had a good game down to one pitch,” Verlander said. “Andrus’ shot doesn’t really bother me, but the circuit that followed is one that I would really like to recover. Just a curveball hanging up and away.
“Turn the page. We won and a lot of positives to take away today, especially after my last start, and that’s what I’m going to focus on.
The Astros charged with one out in the ninth on a pair of singles and a walk to Jose Altuve. Alex Bregman drew another walk, forcing a run to cut the lead to 3-2, before Alvarez powered a Sam Selman fastball into the outfield gap to change the Astros’ mood and keep their momentum going in Thursday day.
“I thought Verlander pitched so well today, and we just passed the baton to the next guy in the last inning and got Yordan up in a one-point game,” Bregman said. “He put a big swing on it. Right after they had all the momentum in the world, going to take it back and sweep a series and get us to 4-2 on the road trip, that’s really big.
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