HOUSTON -- The Astros were an out away from locking down a series win over the team boasting baseball's best record, but the bullpen could not put away an A's club that came roaring from behind in the ninth. The result was a 7-4 defeat to Oakland on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park that marked Houston's sixth loss in seven games.
The bullpen has been a glaring source of the Astros' struggles for much of the season, but the bulk of the damage done in this game came from an unlikely candidate -- closer Chad Qualls, who hadn't blown a save in six weeks.
Tuesday's unraveling was a doozy, highlighted by the A's having perfect, and somewhat lucky, placement with their rally-inducing hits.
With Qualls in to protect a 4-1 lead in the ninth, Derek Norris reached on a one-out infield single and moved to third on a double by Josh Reddick. Both scored on a base hit by pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo, and following a walk to Jed Lowrie, Yoenis Cespedes dumped a flare into shallow right, tying the game at 4.
"They make contact," Qualls said. "They take a lot of pitches. Two of the hits they got tonight weren't hit really hard -- Norris' to start everything off was just a little nubber to third, and then Cespedes that tied it was just a jam shot they got to the outfield. They found some holes when they needed to and hit the ball on the screws when they needed to. I just didn't get it done."
Qualls had a 2.00 ERA over 40 games heading into this appearance, although this homestand hasn't been his best. In his prior outing on Saturday versus the Marlins, he allowed two runs (one earned). But the overall body of work has been impressive -- 31 scoreless outings over the past 35.
"They battled back and they beat our best guys," said Astros manager Bo Porter. "You look at the ground ball to [third baseman Matt] Dominguez, the hit by Cespedes is a blooper to the right fielder. It's all part of the game. Chad Qualls has been outstanding all year and has been our best reliever. And just tonight we just didn't get it done."
Meanwhile, the A's, who added two insurance runs with Jose Veras on the mound, nailed down their sixth win when trailing heading into the ninth.
"That's amazing," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "For a late-inning at-bat, that's as good as I've ever seen in a team. The 27th out -- we don't give that away. It's an attribute. That's the way this team is."
Up until the ninth, it looked like the Astros were in firm control against the team leading their American League West division. A homestand that started with a dismal offensive showing against the Marlins seemed to take a positive turn, first with a homer-laden win in the opener with the A's. Tuesday's game featured the Astros' bats doing just enough against Jeff Samardzija, who in his prior outing on July 24 limited Houston to one run over eight frames.
Six hits and four runs in Tuesday's game wasn't exactly a barrage, but for a while, it looked like it was going to be enough. Until the 'pen took over in earnest.
The blown save erased one of Scott Feldman's best outings of the season. He yielded one run -- a Josh Reddick leadoff homer in the fifth -- over a 95-pitch, seven-inning outing. This was his 24th career appearance against Oakland and would have been his sixth win, his most against any single opponent.
"That lineup over there was giving me a tough time my whole career, pretty much," Feldman said. "Even when they weren't that good of a team. I was happy that I threw the ball better and as far as what happened at the end there, Quallsie's been great all year. I think that everybody has games like that."
Marwin Gonzalez's solo homer off Samardzija in the first inning would stand as Houston's only run until the fifth, when Enrique Hernandez knocked in a run with a triple to left-center, which was followed by Jose Altuve's RBI single to left.
Hernandez tacked on a second RBI with a double off Samardzija in the seventh, giving the Astros a three-run cushion. The six-run A's ninth negated all of that effort.
"Any time you lose games in the eighth, ninth inning, those are tough games to lose," Porter said. "But I tell you, I'm proud of these guys. They played hard, we were in position to win the ballgame and just were not able to close it out."