Instant Replay: A's take sole possession of first place

Donaldson finishes a triple shy of the cycle

Instant Replay: A's take sole possession of first place
September 6, 2013, 10:00 pm
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Josh Donaldson had a 3 for 5 night that included a double and his 21st homer of the season. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

A’s starter A.J. Griffin (13-9) got off to a rocky start himself but steadied the ship. (AP IMAGES)

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND – A night after being muzzled offensively, the A’s delivered the kind of production expected against the pitching-starved Astros.

Adding on runs throughout the night, Oakland wore out Houston 7-5 and grabbed sole possession of first place in the American League West for the first time since Aug. 6.

It appeared it would be a back-and-forth night as the A’s and Astros traded runs in the early innings and both starting pitchers labored. But the A’s took the lead for good, 5-4, in the fourth and proceeded to tie this four-game series at a game apiece.

Houston entered with a major league-worst 4.84 ERA, and left-hander Dallas Keuchel (5-9) was gone from the game by the fourth, allowing 10 hits and five runs.

A’s starter A.J. Griffin (13-9) got off to a rocky start himself but steadied the ship and kept the workload relatively light on his bullpen by going six innings. It wasn’t a pretty victory, but nobody said it had to be considering Houston had won four of the last six against Oakland.

Starting pitching report

Twice Griffin failed to deliver a shutdown inning after the A’s produced early scoring rallies. It appeared he wouldn’t be long for this game after surrendering four runs on seven hits through the first four innings. But the right-hander settled down and went six innings to ring up his 13th victory. He allowed four runs on seven hits and tied his career high with nine strikeouts. Significantly, it was just the third start in the past 10 that Griffin didn’t give up a home run.

Bullpen report

It was the formula that Bob Melvin would like to go with most every night -- some combination of Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour over the final three innings to close out a victory. But Balfour once again made the ninth inning too adventurous. Armed with a three-run lead, he put runners on the corners with one out. Trevor Crowe then hit a bouncer to second that should have at least resulted in one out but Eric Sogard couldn’t field the ball cleanly. All runners were safe and a run scored to make it 7-5.

First baseman Brandon Moss then made a tough backhanded stop and got a force at second on Jason Castro’s grounder for the second out. A wild pitch put runners on second and third. Balfour ran the count to 3-0 on Matt Dominguez before coming back to strike him out and finally end the game.

At the plate

Continuing a recent trend, the A’s kept adding on runs as the game wore on. They banged out 13 hits, led by Josh Donaldson’s 3 for 5 night that included a double and his 21st homer, a two-run shot in the seventh that pushed a 5-4 lead to 7-4. Donaldson also scored three times.

The A’s 3-4-5 hitters -- Jed Lowrie, Yoenis Cespedes and Nate Freiman – all had two hits. Lowrie added two RBI, including a run-scoring single and his 42nd double of the season. The switch hitter is now tied for third with Miguel Tejada on the Oakland single-season list. He’s within striking distance of Jason Giambi’s record 47 doubles in 2001. Eric Chavez ranks second on the list with 43, which also came in 2001.

In the field

Remember when Chris Carter played left field for the A’s like he was wearing ice skates? He looked pretty good in robbing Chris Young with a diving catch in the fifth – only to drop Brandon Moss’ very catchable fly one batter later.

An earlier outfield blunder cost Houston when center fielder Brandon Barnes broke in on Josh Donaldson’s liner, only to have it sail over his head for a double. Donaldson would score in a two-run A’s rally.

Attendance

A crowd of 15,502 showed up on a warm Coliseum night. Up next

Dan Straily (8-7, 4.38) takes the ball in Saturday’s 1:05 p.m. game. Rookie Brett Oberholtzer is 4-1 with a 1.98 ERA over six starts since joining the Astros’ rotation.