Baseball / Sports

Carter's home run leads Astros over A's, 4-2

HOUSTON--The trouble with Chris Carter's game-winning three-run homer for the Houston Astros on Tuesday was that, from the Oakland A's point of view, it never had to happen.

The error and the hit batter that brought Carter to the plate for the backbreaking at-bat in Houston's 4-2 win over Oakland were both easily avoided.

Worse still, even if the homer was inevitable, the A's shouldn't have been sitting in a position where an eighth-inning homer had a chance to run them down.

The A's offense is on hiatus, most particularly against left-handed pitchers, even relatively ordinary ones such as the Astros' Dallas Keuchel. Tuesday was the 12th time since the All-Star break the A's have faced a left-handed starter, and they are 4-8 in those games.

In six of the 12 games, they've scored two runs or less. In three other games, they've scored three runs. The A's have to face the fact that they just don't match up well with left-handed pitching.

And this is not about Yoenis Cespedes, traded to Boston at the end of July. The A's were 0-4 against lefties in four games between the break and the trade with Cespedes in the lineup, averaging 2.5 runs in those games.

"We're not scoring much against anybody right now," manager Bob Melvin said.

And the thing is, the lineup against lefties is likely to get worse starting Wednesday. The A's are activating Drew Pomeranz to pitch Wednesday's series finale in Houston, and it seems the A's are going to send down first baseman Nate Freiman to get Pomeranz on board, thus setting up Sonny Gray, Jon Lester, Scott Kazmir and Jeff Samardzija to pitch against the Angels starting Thursday in Anaheim.

Freiman has an option, which means the A's can send him down without losing him, then get him back when the roster expands to 40 players Monday. The Angels are likely to throw two lefties at the A's, and Oakland could use Freiman. Since his promotion Aug. 3, he has made seven starts against lefties and against them is 6 for 19 with one single, two doubles, three homers, two walks and six RBIs.

His demotion will make Oakland more vulnerable than ever against lefty starters, but there seems no other practical way to get Pomeranz on the roster.

It was Freiman's double off Keuchel that put the A's up 2-0 in the fourth inning Tuesday. They would not score again.

"We should do more," Melvin said. "What did we get, five hits?"

Still, Oakland seemed to be in good shape with Jason Hammel having his best start since being acquired from the Cubs. Dexter Fowler hit a homer off him in the fourth, but Hammel retired the last 10 men he faced and handed a 2-1 lead to Luke Gregerson in the eighth.

Gregerson got two quick grounders. He fielded the first himself with the second going to Eric Sogard at second base. Sogard's throw to first base was true, but Stephen Vogt dropped it, committing what he called "an inexcusable error."

The next error was by Gregerson, who tried to quick-pitch Jose Altuve, the American League hits leader, and hit him with a pitch. That brought up Carter, the only real power threat in the Astros lineup, and someone that, had the A's played the game right, they wouldn't have had to face in the eighth inning.

Carter planted a Gregerson pitch on the railroad tracks beyond left field, 439 feet away. That was it. The A's had an excellent chance to keep pace with the Angels in the battle for first place in the American League West, and they gave it away.

--Jonny Gomes had two of Oakland's five hits, one of them driving in a run. He also made a diving catch in left field, catching a searing Carter liner with two outs and two on. "That was definitely max extension for me," Gomes said.

--Freiman turned in two fine plays at first base, ranging to his right both times.

--The A's got good news on injured middle infielders Nick Punto (hamstring) and Jed Lowrie (broken right finger). Punto took batting practice Monday and Tuesday and felt good, and Lowrie took ground balls and did some throwing for the first time since going on the D.L. Melvin said he'd like to have both get a couple of injury rehabilitation games in the minor leagues, but the minor league season is getting ready to shut down. Punto, who is closer to being ready, is likely to go out on a rehab assignment in the next few days, but it's not clear if Lowrie will be healthy enough soon enough.

(c)2014 Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

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