HOUSTON -- The Oakland A's spent eight innings fumbling and bumbling their way to what seemed a sure loss, then regained the poise that has them fighting for the American League West lead with a huge three-run ninth inning, good for a 5-4 win over the Houston Astros.
Now the A's (78-54) won't be more than a game behind the Los Angeles Angels, playing Miami on the West Coast, when the two A.L. West powerhouses meet Thursday in the first of a four-game series with the division lead on the line.
Jonny Gomes singled to get the inning off on the right foot, and the flying feet of pinch-runner Craig Gentry stole second base. An Alberto Callaspo grounder got Gentry to third against Astros closer Chad Qualls. That set up No. 9 hitter Eric Sogard to come up big, and he did with a game-tying single.
Coco Crisp's bid for a hit was thwarted by first baseman Jon Singleton, but as good as the play was, it could only get Sogard for the lead out, leaving it to Sam Fuld. The backup outfielder, getting a start in center with Crisp the DH, lined his third homer into the seats in right for a 5-3 lead.
Chris Carter homered in the bottom of the ninth for the Astros' final run.
Along the way the A's almost wasted a good comeback effort by Drew Pomeranz, who left the game in the sixth inning with a 1-0 lead and who wound up getting charged with an unearned run.
The A's came back quickly when Crisp homered above the out-of-town scoreboard in left field.
Reliever Ryan Cook, whose wild pitch allowed Pomeranz's run to score in the sixth, then hit a batter to start what would become a decisive two-run seventh inning, both runs charged to him.
That lead afforded by Crisp's homer didn't last long, either. Another A's mistake -- Cook hitting Matt Dominguez with a pitch to start the seventh -- led to Fernando Abad trying to pitch out of a one-out jam with men at the corners. He struck out pinch-hitter Marwin Gonzalez, but Robbie Grossman broke his bat with a single that tied the game at 2-all. Abad had not allowed any of his first 26 inherited runners to score, the best streak in baseball, before Grossman ended that.
Dan Otero came out of the pen against Jose Altuve. Otero got two quick strikes on the major league hits leader, ran the count full, then saw Altuve sneak his 181st hit under the glove of diving second baseman Alberto Callaspo for the go-ahead run and a 3-2 Houston lead.
Oakland initially broke through in the sixth following a leadoff walk drawn by Josh Donaldson. Brandon Moss doubled -- his first extra-base hit in 31 at-bats -- to right, sending Donaldson to third. After Derek Norris walked to load the bases, starter Brad Peacock was replaced by Kevin Chapman and pinch-hitter Jonny Gomes delivered a sacrifice fly.
The lead, and Pomeranz's time on the mound, quickly ended. Shortstop Sogard's error, his seventh in his last 28 games, got Jose Altuve on, and he took second on Carter's single.
Manager Bob Melvin went to his bullpen for Cook, who quickly struck out Fowler. Altuve stole third, then scored on a wild pitch Cook bounced 10 feet in front of catcher Derek Norris. The unearned run, charged to Pomeranz, tied the game.
-- First baseman Nate Freiman was optioned to Class-A Beloit (Wis.) to make room for Pomeranz to start. Beloit will not make the playoffs, so the A's can get Freiman back Tuesday by having him on that roster rather than on Sacramento's with the River Cats headed to the Pacific Coast League playoffs. "It's not lost on me they sent me to a team where I can be back sooner rather than later," Freiman said. "To me it's a huge compliment that they want me here as soon as possible."
-- The A's appear to be closer to getting starting shortstop Jed Lowrie back from the disabled list than they are utility infielder Nick Punto, although neither is all that far away. Lowrie has started throwing, taking batting practice and otherwise testing the broken right index finger that sidelined him. He could go out on an injury rehabilitation assignment. Punto still has yet to test his injured hamstring in a full-out sprint, so his rehab assignment isn't as close at hand. "I think this is my fourth hamstring injury," the 36-year-old Punto said. "I know how to handle them. You can't push them too far; they'll tell you when they're ready. The other three hammys came when I was younger, too, and that makes a difference."
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