The Houston Astros tied the Oakland Athletics in a simple way in the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday night, with Matt Dominguez hitting a two-run home run against All-Star closer Grant Balfour. That gets right to the point. However, explaining how the Astros pushed across the winning run is a little tougher. Let's just say they lucked out with aggressive baserunning at the same moment the A's defense had one of its biggest lapses of 2013.
With the help of a questionable decision and two errant throws, rookie Jonathan Villar scampered home to give the Astros an unlikely 5-4 victory against the A's at Minute Maid Park.
After the Dominguez home run, which broke a streak of 44 scoreless innings by Balfour, the Astros put runners at first and second with one out.
With Jason Castro batting, Balfour threw a pitch in the dirt that Norris blocked. Villar considered taking off from second base before retreating, but Jose Altuve ventured far off first base — more than midway — and slipped trying to get back. Norris hesitated and threw behind Altuve to first base, but the ball went wide of Brandon Moss at the bag and glanced off his mitt for an error before trickling into shallow right field.
Meanwhile, Villar had been running hard since the moment Norris committed to throw to first, and he was full-steam in making the turn for home. As Villar charged toward the plate, Moss tracked down the ball and threw a worm-burner on three hops to home, where Norris could not handle it cleanly. Going head first, Villar slid in safely for the winning run. Via the Associated Press:
''I'm running hard every time,'' said Villar, a speedy shortstop who stole 31 bases in Triple-A this season.
The A's go hard, too, but their defense failed them this time. Moss, who doesn't have many innings logged at first base as a professional, blamed poor footwork on his part for not being in better position to catch Norris's throw.
"That's not on Norris, it's on me," Moss said. "All I had to do was move my feet to get in position. But I didn't know where (Altuve) was, or I would have moved."
Blame was shared. Balfour said he could have, and has, done better.
Some of the credit also should go to the Astros, who were adventurous on the bases and pushed the A's to make a play. Oakland just didn't do it.