HOUSTON -- A week ago, Sean Doolittle was celebrating. Saturday night he was scavenging tape in the video room, looking for answers in the wake of the Oakland Athletics' 7-6 loss to the Astros.
Barely a week after he got a new five-year contract extension, Doolittle had one of the worst outings of his career. He faced four batters in the eighth inning, all of whom got hits. And a 3-3 game exploded on him.
The Athletics got three of the four runs back on a ninth-inning homer from Brandon Moss, but that only made things a little worse in the second-guessing department for Doolittle.
"If I can minimize it down to one or two runs," Doolittle said, his voice trailing off.
He later added his night was "just not acceptable."
It wasn't, mostly because the Astros could sit on his fastball, and on this night his usually reliable fastball wasn't good. Marwin Gonzalez and Jose Altuve singled to open the eighth, and Dexter Fowler's single put the Astros ahead.
Jason Castro followed with a single to get a second run across and chase Doolittle.
All the hits were on fastballs.
"I looked at it on film and I don't have any answers," Doolittle said. "I don't know. That's what makes it so frustrating."
Doolittle said only two games in his career produced the same level of frustration.
Last Aug. 20 he took over for Sonny Gray with a 4-2 lead and faced four men, getting none of them out in a game the A's would go on to lose 7-4 to the Mariners.
And then there was Game 4 of the 2013 playoffs against the Tigers when Doolittle pitched the eighth inning with a one-run lead. He got two outs, but gave up three runs when shutting down the Tigers would have meant a trip to the American League Championship Series.
The contract extension includes language that would deal with Doolittle getting a salary bump for pitching as the team's closer. That's what he'd like to do, but he wasn't talking like a closer Saturday.
"My fastball is my best pitch," he said. "But they (the hitters) know that as well as I do. On a night when I don't have my best pitch, I've got to find other ways to get outs."
Doolittle worked in spring training on mixing a slider in with his fastball and curve, but it has yet to materialize as a weapon. For it to be a weapon, hitters are going to have to be in awe of the fastball. But in his last five games, Doolittle has allowed six earned runs in four innings pitched and his ERA has skyrocketed from 1.17 to 6.17.
A's starter Dan Straily, who gave up two early homers to put the club in an early 3-2 hole, was able to take a step back.
"Sean is one of the best relievers in the game, and tonight doesn't change that," Straily said. "He'll come back and be the Sean Doolittle we know."
Manager Bob Melvin suggested Doolittle's issues Saturday may have been related to the location of his pitches, but the lefty only questioned a pitch left over the middle to Fowler to produce the first run.
Catcher John Jaso said that after the first runner reached, what Doolittle needed was a grounder for a double play.
He got a grounder from Altuve, but the ball eluded Daric Barton at first base, and the inning spun out of control from there as the Astros would survive Moss's three-run homer to beat the A's for the first time in six games this season.
-- Josh Reddick turned in one of the finest throws of the season, gunning down the swift George Springer tagging up from second and trying for third. Reddick said the throw was one of the best he could recall.
The ball never touched earth, a throw that Reddick compares with the one he uncorked against the Indians' Drew Stubbs last August, a throw on which manager Melvin said at the time "I never thought he had a chance."
-- Yoenis Cespedes did some running between left and center field in the early stages of batting practice Saturday, testing his tender left hamstring. Cespedes didn't enter the game because Melvin doesn't want him batting when there's a chance for a double play. The left fielder will not start Sunday.
-- With a double and a single in three at-bats, A's catcher Derek Norris is 11-for-22 in his last five games, lifting his average from .361 to .362.
-- Straily has allowed at least one home run in each of his five starts and a team-high seven overall.
"If I eliminate the homers, I'll be just fine," Straily said. "They're only getting me that one way."
-- Moss has four homers this year, and he's made them count. Three of them, including his ninth-inning bomb that almost rallied the A's Saturday, have come with two men aboard.
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