Astros Homer Their Way To Fourth Consecutive ALCS

For a little while there, everything was going the way the A’s drew it up. Thanks to — you guessed it — a homer, they had a 3-0 lead entering the bottom of the fourth. Zack Greinke, though generally effective, had allowed consecutive singles to Matt Olson and Mark Canha in the top of third; he hung a 3-2 slider to Ramón Laureano, and the A’s jumped out ahead. Meanwhile, Frankie Montas had managed to face the minimum through his three frames, outside of Yuli Gurriel reaching base on an Olson error. After the Laureano homer, the A’s win expectancy jumped to 76.4%. It wasn’t just that they had a chance to win, to stay alive and push this ALDS to a winner-take-all fifth game; they had a good chance.

It was all the more astonishing, then, how quickly the wheels fell off for Oakland, how quickly the Astros swung the game in their favor, taking it to a point of no return. Though the A’s offense did their best to rally, the scale of the thumping the Astros lineup put on Montas and a desperate, ineffective succession of A’s relievers was, in the end, too much for them to overcome. With a final score of 11-6, the Astros make their way into their fourth consecutive ALCS, while the A’s make their way home after yet another postseason heartbreak.

Though it ended up not being the definitive death-blow, the bottom of the fourth inning was when the game took its fundamental turn. It started out with a leadoff walk to Jose Altuve. Innocuous enough, yes — it was only one baserunner — but in that walk, there were signs of the carnage that was to come. Montas, it seemed, had suddenly lost his ability to locate. Now facing the Astros lineup for the second time, he followed up a first-pitch sinker for a strike to Michael Brantley with his second and third splitters of the game, neither of which was near the zone, and a sinker that sailed in high. His next sinker was right in the middle of the zone, and Brantley promptly sent it out of the yard. The A’s lead had been cut down to one run.

But it didn’t stop there. Alex Bregman singled next, then Kyle Tucker. Montas fell behind Carlos Correa, and on a slider right at the top of the zone, the A’s watched their last lead of the series sail into the Dodger Stadium stands.

It didn’t stop there, either. Montas finally recorded the first out of the inning on his next pitch, but allowed singles to Josh Reddick and George Springer around a strikeout. With the Astros lineup having turned over, it was the end of the road for Montas, who ceded the mound to J.B. Wendelken. (Mysteriously, it was A’s pitching coach Scott Emerson, not manager Bob Melvin, who went out to make the change.) Wendelken managed to end the threat.

And Laureano, for his part, wasn’t about to let the A’s season end just like that. He jumped on the second pitch from Greinke in the top of the fifth, another poorly located slider, and again sent it out of the park. Now it was the Astros whose lead had been cut down to a single run. A walk to Marcus Semien knocked Greinke, leaving it to the Astros bullpen to preserve their narrow lead.

But it didn’t stay narrow for long. The Astros scored two runs in each of the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings, touching up every reliever the A’s sent to the mound. The A’s, meanwhile, were held hitless by Cristian Javier in his second-ever postseason appearance through 2 2/3 innings of work, despite having two runners reach base in each of the seventh and eighth innings. Entering the top of the ninth, the score stood at 11-4 in favor of the Astros, a near-insurmountable lead.

Still, the A’s didn’t make it easy for Ryan Pressly to close out the series. Back-to-back two-out singles scored two runs, and a walk to yesterday’s hero Chad Pinder brought Khris Davis to the plate with a chance to make things genuinely interesting. Davis struck out looking, ending the game.

This ALDS will perhaps be best remembered for the ridiculous number of home runs that were hit. The Astros and the A’s each hit 12 long balls, both breaking the record for a five-game series. At the end of the day, though, the A’s probably won’t take a lot of comfort in that record. The Astros, their rivals, snuck into the postseason with a sub-.500 record. Now, having outslugged the A’s, it is the Astros who will continue onward. And the 2020 Oakland A’s, division winners, walk off into the chilly darkness of the offseason.

RJ is the dilettante-in-residence at FanGraphs. Previous work can be found at Baseball Prospectus, VICE Sports, and The Hardball Times.

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Joe Joemember
1 year ago

Besides for Gurriel still looking hurt and Alvarez out, Astros offense looks like they are back.

Doubtful that they have enough pitching for the next round as pitchers look spent after 4 games.