HOUSTON -- Evan Gattis gave the Astros what they've been unable to find during this five-game losing skid -- a timely hit -- crushing the first pitch he saw from Oakland reliever Fernando Rodriguez for a two-out, go-ahead three-run homer to right field in the seventh, giving Houston a 10-6, come-from-behind win over Oakland and ace Sonny Gray on Saturday at Minute Maid Park.
With the win, the Astros padded their cushion for the second American League Wild Card spot, moving 1 1/2 games ahead of the Angels, who swept the Twins in a doubleheader on Saturday. They remained 2 1/2 games behind the Rangers in the AL West after Texas beat Seattle, 10-1.
Coming off the worst start of his career, Gray battled command issues all night, issuing four walks and spotting the Astros three runs in a 39-pitch first inning -- highlighted by doubles from Jose Altuve and Jed Lowrie, who also scored on a wild pitch while pushing third baseman Marcus Semien out of his way in the process.
"I obviously didn't throw enough strikes. That was pretty much the case there," Gray said. "That wasn't a way to start a game, but we fought back and we were able to come back, and that was big. I wasn't able to hold us there."
Gattis ended that first inning prematurely with an ill-advised tag-up on Luis Valbuena's shallow popout, becoming the back end of a double play that allowed Gray to escape. The big slugger, whose bobblehead was given out at Minute Maid Park on Saturday, atoned for that mistake in the seventh.
"I was just glad to be up in that spot," Gattis said. "Had the baserunning error earlier and got a chance to make up for it in a big team win."
Astros starter Scott Kazmir lasted just 3 2/3 innings and allowed mammoth solo homers to Jake Smolinski and Semien to cut the early three-run Astros lead to one. Smolinski added a go-ahead RBI double to begin a string of three straight RBI hits in the fifth off reliever Vincent Velasquez, giving the A's a 6-3 lead that the bullpen could not hold.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Gone, Gattis, Gone: Gattis' go-ahead shot was arguably a season-saving moment, as the ball barely cleared the right-field wall to vault Houston into the lead and maintain some breathing room in the Wild Card race. It was his 25th homer of the season and the kind of spark a struggling Astros bunch desperately needed.
"It woke everybody up," manager A.J. Hinch said. "It put a lot of belief that we remember how to win games like this." More >
Sonny scuffles again: After allowing a career-worst seven earned runs in a career-low three innings in his last start, Gray was far from his dominant self, but he pitched well out of jams and stranded baserunners in every inning before Valbuena's sixth-inning RBI single ended his night. His undoing came five innings earlier, though, when he went to three-ball counts to seven of the first nine hitters he faced, including three walks and two extra-base hits.
"Usually he throws more strikes," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "Sometimes through the course of the year, you go through stretches where you struggle some. Whether it's late in the year and he's a bit tired, probably has something to do with it, but you're not going to be perfect through the course of the season." More >
Duff gets tough: Matt Duffy sure had to earn his first Major League hit, and his persistence paid off in a big way. Duffy stepped to the plate in the sixth as a pinch-hitter and fouled off four pitches before roping an RBI double that just missed clearing the elevated wall in left-center field. The two-bagger cut Oakland's lead to 6-5, setting the stage for Gattis' heroics an inning later.
"That was obviously a moment I won't forget, coming off the bench like that and getting a hit to help the team get a big win," Duffy said. More >
Smashing Smolinski: The A's outfielder immediately picked up his pitcher, launching Kazmir's 3-1 offering high into the left-field Crawford Boxes to lead off the second inning. He started another rally in the fifth, beginning a streak of three consecutive two-out RBI hits with a double. He has six RBIs in his past five games and three homers in that span.
"We swung the bat well, added on and got ourselves a nice lead," Melvin said. "We just couldn't hold them down at the end, we've had trouble doing that this year."
"Sometimes we forget how explosive we've been when you're in lulls like this. It was quite a breakout performance for us." -- Hinch, on the Astros' 10 runs
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Max Stassi's eighth-inning solo home run was the first homer of his Major League career. He entered the game with 35 at-bats over the course of three seasons.
UNDER FURTHER REVIEW Billy Burns tried to stretch his two-out double into a triple in the eighth inning, but he was thrown out on a perfect 7-6-5 relay from Colby Rasmus to Carlos Correa to Lowrie. Melvin challenged the call, but it was confirmed after a 43-second review.
WHAT'S NEXT A's: Righty Aaron Brooks will face Houston for the second time in 11 days to close the three-game set at 11:10 a.m. PT on Sunday at Minute Maid Park. Brooks lasted just four innings when he last faced the Astros, surrendering eight hits and five runs in an 11-5 loss at the Coliseum. Brooks' 7.68 ERA is the fourth highest in the AL among pitchers with 30 or more innings.
Astros: Collin McHugh gets the ball in a 1:10 p.m. CT first pitch. Like many of the Astros' pitchers, McHugh is coming off a rather disappointing outing, when he gave up five runs against Texas. The A's have seen him well, tallying eight runs off him in 17 innings this season.