A's host Astros with first place on the line


OAKLAND, Calif. -- First place in the American League West will be on the line for the Houston Astros and the Oakland Athletics when they meet as co-leaders in the finale of a three-game series Sunday afternoon.

The A's completed a climb from 10 games out July 10 to catch the Astros on Saturday with a 7-1 victory that featured brilliant pitching by right-hander Trevor Cahill and an eight-double assault on Astros' pitching.

The A's (74-49), who began the series two games behind, also won 4-3 in 10 innings Friday night to get within arm's length of the Astros (74-49) entering Saturday's matchup.

Astros right-hander Justin Verlander (11-8, 2.52 ERA) and A's left-hander Sean Manaea (11-8, 3.44) are scheduled to square off in the series finale in a rematch of a 6-5 Houston home win in 11 innings July 10.

Verlander left after throwing six shutout innings that day, allowing three hits.

Down 4-0, Oakland rallied against the Houston bullpen to tie the score in the ninth inning, then scored once in the 11th before the Astros countered with two.

Oakland's four-run ninth prevented Verlander from posting a 12th career win against the A's. He's 11-6 with a 2.55 ERA in 19 starts.

Verlander also pitched well against the A's in an earlier head-to-head in June at Oakland, getting the win in a 7-3 triumph after allowing three runs and five hits in seven innings.

That raised his career record in Oakland to 6-4 with a 2.52 ERA in 11 starts.

All Astros eyes won't be totally focused on the A's, with star second baseman Jose Altuve having flown to Tacoma, Wash., for an injury-rehab start with Houston's Triple-A affiliate.

With the Astros scheduled to fly to Seattle to start a three-game series Monday, it's possible that Altuve, out since July 25 with a sore right knee, could rejoin the parent club for all or some of the games against the Mariners.

"It's tough for me. Everyone knows this is the first time in my career I've been on the (disabled list)," Altuve said Saturday before heading for Tacoma. "I'd like to come here and get to play, but I had a lot of fun watching these guys play. What they do is impressive. We're in first place. I spent a good time rooting for my team."

The Astros have been held to eight hits in 19 innings in Oakland, including two Saturday when Cahill nearly no-hit them for seven innings.

Houston's only hit during that span was a grounder up the middle in the second inning by Yuli Gurriel that was bobbled by Oakland shortstop Marcus Semien. It was ruled a hit.

Tony Kemp silenced the potential controversy over the official scorer's call when he hit a one-out home run in the ninth for Houston's second hit.

Manaea will face the Astros for the fourth time this season. He wasn't as effective as Verlander in their duel July 10, giving up three runs and seven hits in four innings.

The late rally allowed him to avoid getting tagged with a loss.

Manaea is 1-1 against the Astros this season and 2-4 with a 2.82 ERA in 11 career starts against Houston.

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