After spending recent postseasons counting the bangs on a trash can, the Houston Astros were prepared to spend the final innings of Game 3 of the American League Division Series counting down the outs on the scoreboard at Dodger Stadium.
The Astros no longer hold an illegal advantage gained from stealing signs, but against the Oakland A’s, they didn’t need extra help to gain a huge edge. After dominating the first two games of this week’s best-of-five series, the Astros took a 7-4 lead into the sixth inning of Wednesday’s elimination game before the boom-or-bust A’s exploded to keep their season alive.
It took Oakland five home runs, including a game-tying, three-run blast from Chad Pinder in the top of the seventh, but the A’s clawed all the way back to win 9-7 and force a Game 4 against an Astros team that has nearly exhausted its pitching depth.
The Astros were nine outs from upsetting the A’s and advancing to the AL Championship Series. But an Oakland team led by an unlikely hero in Pinder proved it could out-slug Houston in a series that’s been defined by the long ball.
Stars George Springer and Carlos Correa carried the sixth-seeded Astros to two wins at the beginning of the week with multi-homer games, but the A’s were able to withstand a shaky outing from starter Jesús Luzardo and the worst performance of reliever Yusmeiro Petit’s season because they peppered the outfield bleachers with home runs of their own.
Closer Liam Hendriks channeled his inner Dennis Eckersley and Rollie Fingers with three innings of lights-out work to close out the game and earn the win, but the A’s were able to extend the series because their lineup suddenly turned into the Bash Brothers.
“That’s the thing: Once our backs are against the wall, suddenly everything changes,” Hendriks said.
All four A’s starting infielders — Pinder, shortstop Marcus Semien, second baseman Tommy La Stella and Matt Olson — homered. Oakland also received a solo shot from left fielder Mark Canha, who entered the day hitless in the series. The A’s weren’t reliant on winning with home runs during the regular season, but the circumstances of the ALDS have made hitting the ball in the air a necessity at Dodger Stadium.
With warm weather in Los Angeles and each game of the series taking place during the day, the ball is carrying — particularly to right-center field — in ways that’s turned the ballpark into a bandbox. The A’s appeared outmatched in the first two games against the Astros’ best pitchers, but when manager Dusty Baker was forced to hand Jose Urquidy the ball for Game 3, Oakland feasted.
“You’re living on the edge of your seat when the ball is flying like that,” Baker said.
One of the Astros’ best set-up men, Enoli Paredes, was unavailable Wednesday after pitching three innings in the first two games, so right-hander Josh James stayed on the mound for the seventh after working a scoreless sixth.
Pinder only hit two home runs during the regular season, but he was slotted into the third slot in the order Wednesday and delivered with a three-run shot into the first rows of the right-field seats to tie the game with his second homer in as many days.
“I got a text this morning that I was at third base, hitting third,” Pinder said. “That does give you confidence, like all right, everybody believes in you, everyone knows what you can do. And once that first pitch starts you’ve got to lock it in.”
The season-saving victory for Oakland moved teams that have hit more home runs than their opponents to 18-0 in this year’s postseason, highlighting the value power provides in October.
The A’s must win two more elimination games to overtake the Astros and assert themselves as the new AL West power. But they may not have to face Houston right-hander Zack Greinke. After losing 2019 aces Gerrit Cole to free agency and Justin Verlander to season-ending elbow surgery, the Astros expected Greinke to serve as an anchor for the pitching staff this postseason.
Baker said Wednesday that a recent MRI revealed no structural damage to Greinke’s ailing right elbow, but it remains unclear if he’ll be ready to pitch either of the next two games and whether he’ll be effective if he does take the mound.
“We’re a little thin,” Baker admitted. “Whoever starts tomorrow we need some innings out of them, as many innings as possible to limit our bullpen action.”
The A’s have starters Frankie Montas, who will start Thursday, and Mike Fiers available for the next two days while the Astros will likely need rookie Cristian Javier to pitch Thursday. The rookie right-hander was impressive in 10 starts this season, but he also gave up 11 home runs in 54 1/3 innings.
Seven A’s hitters have now homered in the postseason, giving a team that was missing production from several key offensive players hope that Wednesday’s win was a turning point. In a series where every player is now a power threat, Oakland no longer needs to be convinced they can out-slug the Astros.
The A’s proved they can win with power in Game 3.