OAKLAND -- In the previous 13 days, the A's played four of the best teams in the American League, posted a 9-4 record, and looked every bit a baseball club on an express train to the playoffs.
Thursday night, however, the train jumped the tracks a bit. Oakland played the worst team in the A.L., the Houston Astros, and looked far less full speed ahead in a 3-2 defeat before an announced Coliseum crowd of just 11,569.
The A's have to hope this curious setback was an anomaly rather than a trend against teams under .500 and out of the postseason picture. Other than their three-game series against the Texas Rangers next weekend in Arlington, the A's play 19 of their final 22 games against also-rans.
After winning their first 10 games of the year against Houston, the A's now have lost four of six to the lowly Astros, and three of four in Oakland. On this night, they were done in for the most part by right-hander Brad Peacock, a pitcher they included in the trade for infielder Jed Lowrie.
Peacock (4-5) gave up just three hits, one walk and struck out nine through the first seven innings against a team that pummeled Texas ace Yu Darvish little more than 24 hours before. But the A's were quick to say Peacock's effort was not a fluke.
"I had the opportunity to catch Peacock a lot in the minor leagues, and he has the capability to have pretty good stuff," said Josh Donaldson. "I think we let him get a little comfortable early. The longer the game went, the stronger he got."
Manager Bob Melvin agreed.
"(Peacock) was getting ahead of us, and we probably didn't make the adjustment until it was a little bit late," he said. "Once he got ahead, his stuff was much better than we've seen." But were the A's flat after their great run?
"I don't know, I don't think we came out blazing," Donaldson said. "It was just one of those days where ... I don't know what happened. Come back (Friday) and try to get a win."
The A's finally did stage an offensive rally in the eighth inning that chased Peacock, but it came up a run short from tying the game, and then Oakland was shut down by Houston's fourth pitcher, Josh Fields, in a 1-2-3 ninth.
The meager offensive output ruined another terrific start by rookie right-hander Sonny Gray, who pitched eight innings and retired 19 of the final 20 hitters he faced. He walked one and struck out seven.
But the Astros jumped on Gray (2-3) for six hits and three runs in the first two innings, Another former Athletic, Chris Carter, hit a two-out RBI single in the first.
Gray recorded an opening strikeout in the second but gave up consecutive singles to the No. 8 and 9 hitters, L.J. Hoes and Matt Pagnozzi. He struck out Jonathan Villar for the second out, but Jose Altuve singled to left to bring home Hoes, and left fielder Yoenis Cespedes allowed the ball to carom hard off his glove into the bullpen, allowing Pagnozzi to score as well.
"I've got to do a better job earlier in the game," said Gray. "I kind of got us off to kind of rough start, and we were digging ourselves out of a hole the whole game. They didn't hit the ball hard, but I wasn't executing my pitches, especially in the second inning."
Melvin said his young pitcher could have received more support both in the field and at the plate.
"We didn't play really great behind him," Melvin said. "We were a little in between on a couple of plays, and those things end up costing you in close games. But then he settled in really nicely, similar to what he's done here recently, which was pitch very well."
"It feels better every day," Norris said. "It was real sore at first. But now it's fine. Something like that wasn't going to keep me out. If it was completely broken and I couldn't walk on it, that would be one thing. But it was manageable to begin with, and it's almost 100 percent now."
"I would imagine, yeah," the manager said. "But I'm not sure."
Follow Carl Steward on Twitter at twitter.com/stewardsfolly.
Houston (Dallas Keuchel 5-8)
at A's (A.J. Griffin 12-9),
7:05 p.m. CSNCA
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