Athletics flex muscle late, beat Astros

MoiseKapenda Bower, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

HOUSTON -- Even in the midst of their recent offensive woes, the Oakland Athletics continue to prove that their power potential makes them dangerous when games are tight and clutch efforts are required.
The Athletics used the long ball to victimize the Houston Astros' bullpen for a third consecutive game, rallying for three runs in the top of the seventh inning in their 4-3 victory on Wednesday at Minute Maid Park.
Athletics center fielder Coco Crisp provided the pop by slugging a two-run home run to left field off left-hander Travis Blackley (1-1). Oakland (59-42) bashed two-run home runs against Houston relievers Wesley Wright and Jose Cisnero on Monday and Tuesday night, respectively, before doing so again to claim the rubber game of this three-game set.
"What it does is it gives us the confidence that we can come back," Athletics manager Bob Melvin said. "And then we know that when we get a guy on base we're one hit away from being in a better position than we were. In other times we have relied on the home run. We haven't hit as many this year as we did last year, but that's certainly a club in our bag. I expect it to come out more so here in the second half."
Oakland entered the series finale batting just .187 over its last 11 games and mustered only six hits against five Houston pitchers Wednesday. But their late-inning home runs produced leads in all three games of this series, with Houston (34-66) needed a ninth-inning home run from Matt Dominguez to help stave off a 13th consecutive series loss Tuesday night.
Oakland right-hander A.J. Griffin (9-7) surrendered a pair of home runs, including a two-run shot to Astros catcher Carlos Corporan in the sixth. But Griffin pitched long enough for the Athletics to rally on his behalf, allowing three runs on six hits while striking out eight in 6 1/3 innings.
With the Athletics' bullpen taxed -- right-handers Sean Doolittle and Grant Balfour were unavailable after pitching Monday and Tuesday -- Oakland needed Griffin to deliver a yeoman effort. He did just that.
"Overall I felt really good. I felt like I had the best stuff I've had this year actually," Griffin said. "My lanes were good to the plate with all my pitches. I felt like I was doing a good job of keeping my delivery the same for every pitch and keeping them off-balance for the most part. That was the most locked in I've felt in a long time, pretty much all year."
Houston right-hander Bud Norris, possibly making his final home start for the Astros, had a 3-1 lead before returning to the mound for the seventh inning despite having thrown 105 pitches. But after inducing a Josh Reddick popup, Norris walked Seth Smith and then surrendered an RBI double to the nine-hole hitter, Eric Sogard.
Norris, whose 119 pitches marked the fifth time this season he had eclipsed 110 pitched, was pulled in favor of Blackley. The switch-hitting Crisp followed by launching an 0-1 fastball into the Crawford Boxes in left.
Norris, the subject of constant trade rumors as the nonwaiver deadline approaches, was bathed in warm applause as he exited the game.
"They've been great all along," Norris said of the fans. "I've played here four years and they've always had my back from Day 1. You really, really appreciate it when you get that support from people. I thank them for everything. Whatever my future for holds me, it holds for me, but my focus is still here and my next one is going to be Tuesday in Baltimore."
Athletics right-hander Ryan Cook earned his second save with 1 1/3 perfect innings of relief. He, along with Jerry Blevins and Jesse Chavez, pitched effectively in high-leverage situations, something the Astros' relievers proved unable to do time and again this series.
"We'll definitely regroup," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "Success and failure are both part of this game. It comes down to execution and I believe moving forward that these guys will do a better job of executing."
NOTES: Despite posting a 2.92 ERA over 13 home starts this season, Norris is just 4-4 with five no-decisions at Minute Maid Park in 2013. Norris entered play on Wednesday ranked third in the major leagues in home ERA at 2.27 since the start of the 2012 season, trailing only Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw (1.96) and Diamondbacks LHP Patrick Corbin (2.10). ... The Athletics improved to 50-29 with LF Yoenis Cespedes in the starting lineup. Cespedes missed four consecutive games with soreness in his left wrist before pinch-hitting in the seventh inning on Tuesday night. Cespedes finished 1-for-4 on Wednesday.