HOUSTON -With the momentum the Athletics have established over the past five games, even a bit of misfortune could do little to stem the tide.
Oakland A's pitcher Brett Anderson worked around a pair of batted balls that hit him as Oakland capped a series sweep over the Houston Astros with a 9-3 victory at Minute Maid Parkon Sunday.
Anderson (1-1) matched his career high of 10 strikeouts while allowing two unearned runs on five hits and two walks over six innings. He persevered despite having one ball clip his left thumb and another ricochet off his left wrist, enabling the Athletics (5-2) to extend their winning streak to five.
"I thought he threw the ball good," Athletics manager Bob Melvin said of Anderson, who underwent a precautionary X-ray on his thumb. "He threw all his pitches; (he) had to make a few adjustments after he got hit. It's something that you don't want to have to think about but he had to and he continued to give us the innings that we needed to not use too much of our bullpen. We were able to use the guys that were more rested than everybody else."
After belting three home runs Saturday night, the Athletics cranked three more in the series finale. Following a one-day respite from their plate discipline woes, the Astros (1-5) resumed their strikeout ways, fanning 14 times on Sunday to increase their total to 74 during the six-game home stand.
That strikeout total is a major-league record for the first six games of a season.
"The positive that I see is that, if you look outside of three innings, we were in pretty good position in all three of these games," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "We're not that far off. We may have lost the game, but I think we're actually learning how to win."
Seeking to avoid a series sweep, the Astros turned to right-hander Lucas Harrell (0-2), whose last start against the Athletics was the first of his big-league career. Harrell bested Anderson and Oakland on July 30, 2010, but from the very start Sunday it was obvious that Harrell lacked his best stuff.
Harrell worked around a leadoff double from Coco Crisp in the top of the first inning, but control issues -- he walked Brandon Moss and Chris Young in succession with one out in the second -- began to play a role in his demise. Seth Smith cranked a two-run double to right-center field to lift Oakland to a 2-0 lead in the second inning, an advantage the Athletics doubled in the third.
Former Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie, who went 7-for-13 in the series, drilled a 2-1 fastball down the left-field line and just inside the foul pole for a two-run home run. Harrell walked Moss and Young in succession again, escaped the third without suffering additional damage, but returned for the fourth only to allow a solo homer to Crisp, his third home run in as many games this series.
The bottom fell out on Harrell in the fifth as he surrendered back-to-back one-out singles to Lowrie and Moss before Young closed the book on Harrell with a titanic three-run home run to left center field. Harrell failed to make it out of the fifth inning yet labored for 112 pitches, surrendering eight earned runs on seven hits -- including all three Oakland home runs -- and five walks.
"Don't leave the ball up because they'll hit it hard," Harrell said of the lesson learned. "They're a young team, they hit a lot of fastballs, and I'm a fastball thrower. If I keep the ball down, I'll get more ground balls and weak contact."
Whether it was Lowrie or Crisp or Young, whose .405 average at Minute Maid Park is the second-best of any player with 70 plate appearances, the Athletics had plenty of options in reserve to handle any amount of adversity presented.
"It's been great," Young said of the offense. "Guys are really finding a way to lock in and have good at-bats throughout the game. Even guys who aren't having success, they're battling and getting pitch counts up and fighting off tough pitches. Every hitter in the lineup is just putting up solid at-bats, and if you continue to do that. you're just going to continue to put runs on the board."
NOTES: Melvin rearranged his outfield to give slumping left fielder Yoenis Cespedes the day off and to rest Crisp. Seth Smith made his first start in left while Young started in center for Crisp, who served as the designated hitter. ... Athletics right fielder Josh Reddick left the series finale with two outs in the fifth inning after crashing into the wall down the right-field line. Reddick exited holding his right forearm and was replaced by Smith, who was simultaneously replaced by Cespedes. X-rays on Reddick's right wrist were negative and his status is day-to-day. X-ray results on Anderson's thumb were negative. ... Harrell had his streak of 31 consecutive starts with at least five innings pitched snapped.