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Alex Bregman, rapidly becoming one of the most fearsome hitters in the American League.

Image: Marco Torres

After the Oakland A’s lost the first two games of a three-game series to the Astros this past weekend, word began to circulate that the team’s manager, Bob Melvin, “chewed his team out for several minutes,” as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. How the worm has turned, thought Astros fans. Just a few years ago, it was the A’s who were riding high, taking 15 of 19 games from a then-hapless Houston team. Going into Sunday, the team had lost 19 of their last 21 games to the ‘Stros, who had suddenly become their “role models” and “inspiration," according to that other Chron.

Small wonder given the one-two punch of powerful pitching and solid bats exhibited by our boys on Friday night. A crowd of 30,908 breathed a collective sigh of relief—no small amount of wind production—as Dallas Keuchel appeared to have at last returned to form, allowing just 3 hits in seven innings, even as back-to-back home runs by Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve provided offensive firepower. The combination proved once more unbeatable, and the Astros won their 76th game of the season by a score of 3-1.

Saturday evening turned out to be even more miserable for the A’s, as the Astros perfected a winning formula even further. A crowd of 32,796 breathed a collective sigh of relief—a veritable gale force effort—as Collin McHugh appeared to have returned to form himself, pitching a masterful six innings of shutout ball. Support included a 2-RBI single by Marwin Gonzalez and another home run by Bregman, rapidly becoming one of the league’s most fearsome hitters. That was all it took for the Astros to win their 77th game—by a score of 3-0—and for Melvin to unleash his tirade.

Given the immediate results produced by the manager’s outburst, A’s players should not expect the anger to end anytime soon. On the seventh pitch of the very first inning of Sunday’s game, the team scored two runs, more than in the entire series thus far. Of course, the achievement came with an asterisk, as the A’s were helped mightily by what the MLB itself termed a “Little League Home Run” by A’s shortstop Marcus Semien. Which is to say a defensive effort so catastrophic, it will no doubt find its way onto the ‘Stros 2017 blooper reel.

Things started routinely, with a single by A’s center fielder Boog Powell, and then a sharp ground ball by Semien to short. After Bregman made a nice backhanded stop, a routine double play seemed in the works, but the shortstop’s off-balance throw to Altuve at second was wildly off the mark. The ball rolled lazily into right field, and the A’s were off to the races. Powell had already rounded third by the time Josh Reddick retrieved Bregman’s errant throw and relayed it to Marwin Gonzalez. The first baseman appeared to have a decent chance of throwing out Semien, who by then was steaming toward third, but the throw by Gonzalez was another errant one by the 'Stros. It skipped past J.D. Davis at third base and Semien scored easily. 

It was an eerie and early deflation for the biggest crowd of the series—34,011. Still, there was ample time for the team to recover from its inauspicious beginning, or so it appeared before the Astros' batters began facing Jharel Cotton. The rookie pitcher's effort wasn't outstanding--he gave up four hits including a seventh-inning home run to Gonzalez--but it was enough to keep Houston from overcoming that first inning Little League hex. Nonetheless, a dramatic finish seemed at least possible after the Astros had a few more singles in the eighth and ninth off A’s relievers, but the team failed to capitalize on them. Final score: A’s 3, ‘Stros 2. So keep screamin’, Bob!

By the way, some might question our characterization of  Semien’s achievements as Little League, but not Semien himself, who actually experienced such a moment during his actual Little League days, when he was about six. During a game on his mother’s birthday, he told the AP, he hit what was “probably like an infield single that turned into a run scored,” thanks to errors by the opposing team. “‘Oh, you hit a homerun for me on my birthday,’” exclaimed his mother, which is exactly what mothers are supposed to do at such moments. After Sunday's game, Semien was also texted by “some old Little League friends” he said, which is exactly what old Little League friends are supposed to do too.  

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