HOUSTON -- Asked to explain his team's success not just in Tuesday's dramatic 7-4 win over the Astros but in game after game over the course of the first four months of the season, Yoenis Cespedes summed it up quickly, and in his ever-improving English.
"I know my team," he said. "We don't quit. Everybody can get the big hit."
Almost everybody did Tuesday. And almost everybody had to, because the A's headed into the ninth down 4-1 and on the verge of a shoddy game that was notable mostly for the number of times A's hitters popped the ball up (nine times in the first eight innings).
This was the sixth time the A's had won after trailing through eight innings, and the 18th time Oakland has won in its last at-bat. It was the second time the A's had scored at least six times in the ninth against the Astros, having scored seven to break a 5-5 tie in Houston on April 25.
Closer Sean Doolittle knows this trend better than most. It's his job to be ready if the A's take the lead, so he's trained himself to expect the unexpected. When Oakland scored these six, he was ready to close it out for the save.
Doolittle saw Alberto Callaspo's two-run pinch-hit single. He saw a game-tying single when Cespedes was able to get a pitch from sinker specialist Chad Qualls in the air to right field. He saw Brandon Moss beat Tony Sipp in a lefty-on-lefty matchup after Moss hadn't had a good at-bat all night. And he saw Josh Donaldson take advantage of the momentum swing to crush a two-run double to center.
"A lot of times, the way we put together big innings, they aren't homers," he said. "You look at the way that inning unfolded, with guys grinding out at-bats, drawing walks when they fall behind in counts, anything to just extend the inning.
"Nobody was trying to end the game on one swing. They were kind of taking what they were getting and trying to put good swings on the ball."
The Cespedes and Moss at-bats were particularly noteworthy and not just because the first tied the game and the second put the A's ahead.
Cespedes was matched up with Qualls with two outs and a force available at first, second or third. He didn't want a ground ball, but Qualls is a grounder specialist.
"You have to really fight the urge to try and pull (Qualls)," manager Bob Melvin said. "If you do, it's on the ground. So that was a great approach to try and get it in the air."
It was a soft liner, but it hit the Astros hard.
Then Moss delivered, mashing a line drive against the shift, avoiding Astros second baseman Jose Altuve who was playing halfway to the right field fence.
"I don't think he thinks much about the shift," Melvin said. "He's aware of it, but he just tries to square the ball up."
Being that it's still July and there are still two months to go in the season, it's dangerous to put too much importance on just one game. Even so, this has the potential to be a huge game in the American League West.
The Los Angeles Angels, who have the second-best record in the majors, had closed to within 1½ games of first place entering Tuesday. They'd rallied to force extra innings in Baltimore against the Orioles, but Manny Machado, the much-beloved by A's fans O's third baseman, homered to earn a 7-6, 12th-inning win at almost the exact same moment that Moss delivered his go-ahead hit.
What could have been a half-game lead for the A's heading into Wednesday is now 2½ games, and those extra two games seem like Mount Kilimanjaro.
A's (Jason Hammel 8-8) at Houston
(Dallas Keuchel 9-7), 11:10 a.m. No TV
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