OAKLAND — The last thing the A’s probably wanted to see in the ninth inning Wednesday was Astros slugger Yordan Alvarez stepping to the plate with the bases loaded in a tight game. The pressure couldn’t have been any higher for Oakland, which had watched Alvarez hit 913 feet of homers in the Coliseum only two days earlier and had nowhere to put him.
The A’s brought in a lefty to face Alvarez, but the odds were stacked in the slugger’s favor no matter who was on the mound. Alvarez fell behind in the count, 0-2, before ripping a bases-clearing double into the right-field gap to cap a four-run rally in the ninth that sent the Astros to a 5-4 come-from-behind win and a series sweep.
“The biggest thing is I just didn’t want to hit something 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 it up in the air, but he threw a pitch and I was able to get my hands through quick and was able to do it.”
The Astros, who were 0-16 when trailing after eight innings entering Wednesday, improved to 4-2 on their road trip, which concludes with a three-game set starting Friday in Kansas City. Houston is 18-12 on the road and improved to a season-best 15 games over .500 (33-18).
“If you’re going to be a championship team, you’ve got to have some come-from-behind wins,” manager Dusty Baker said. “I wish we hadn’t waited too late, but a win’s a win. The guys came through big time. Boy, what can I say? These guys didn’t quit.”
It appeared that the Astros wouldn’t need any kind of late-game heroics, what with the way Justin Verlander was throwing the ball. Coming off his worst start of the season, Verlander took a no-hitter into the seventh inning for the second time this season — only to lose the no-hit bid and the lead on consecutive pitches in the seventh.
An RBI double down the left-field line from Elvis Andrus with two outs was Oakland’s first hit and tied the game, before Christian Bethancourt crushed the next pitch for a two-run homer — his first homer in nearly six years — to vault the A’s ahead, 3-1. Verlander admitted he felt deflated to lose the no-no and the lead.
,[Andrus] sneaks the ball inside the third-base line and the guy from first happens to score because it was perfectly placed — that’s just baseball,” he said. “It happens sometimes. But making a bad pitch and going from seven innings, one run, to seven innings, three runs, and putting our guys behind — definitely deflating. It showed a lot of gumption for our guys to still post after that and have some quality at-bats and find a way.”
Verlander, who gave up six runs on 10 hits, including four homers, in six innings Friday in Seattle, set down 18 of the first 20 Oakland batters he faced. His slider, which he threw 1.9 mph faster than his season average, was terrific and generated eight whiffs from 16 swings. He later said he tinkered with his grip to get some consistency with the pitch.
“We won, had a good game until really a pitch,” Verlander said. “Andrus’ hit doesn’t really bother me, but the homer subsequent to that is one I’d really like to have back. Just a hanging curveball 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 loaded the bases with one out in the ninth on a pair of singles and a walk to Jose Altuve. Alex Bregman drew another walk, forcing in a run to cut the lead to 3-2, before Alvarez rocketed a fastball from Sam Selman into the outfield gap to change the Astros’ mood and keep their momentum rolling into Thursday’s off-day.
“I thought Verlander pitched so well today, and we just passed the torch to the next guy that last inning and got Yordan up there in a one-run game,” Bregman said. “He put a great swing on it. Right after they got all the momentum in the world, to go take it right back and sweep a series and get us to 4-2 on the road trip, that’s really big.”