HOUSTON -- In a game controlled by starting pitching, the A's eked out a 3-1 win over the Astros Thursday night at Minute Maid Park. Lefty Rich Hill thoroughly dominated Houston, striking out 10 in six innings and retiring 10 straight batters at one point.
"Curveball wasn't the best it's been, but the fastball was very good," Hill said. "I think it was just about being able to execute that pitch and mix pitches out there and get ahead, stay ahead and stay aggressive and pitch with that great effort that I want to bring every single time I go out."
Aside from a second-inning stumble that saw Oakland score both of its runs off him, Houston's Doug Fister was also exemplary on the mound. After allowing an RBI double to Yonder Alonso in the second to put the A's up 2-1, the right-hander went six consecutive innings without allowing a hit. Alonso plated another run in the ninth off Pat Neshek as insurance.
"Really proud of [Fister's] effort and his execution and certainly the length of [his pitching performance] that we needed," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.
Three A's relievers combined for three scoreless, hitless innings, with Ryan Madson picking up his 17th save.
It was the third straight game where Fister started and the Astros lost. Houston had won 10 consecutive Fister starts before the losing streak started June 26 against the Royals.
The win comes after back-to-back A's losses and also snaps a nine-game winning streak against division opponents for the Astros. It was Oakland's first win against Houston since April 30.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Pitching-Rich: Hill's trade stock keeps climbing. The veteran left-hander thrived in his second start off the disabled list, notching his third 10-strikeout game of the season and ninth victory. Hill masterfully mixed an effective fastball with his breaking pitches, utilizing both to keep the Astros off-balance and limit them to three hits. With his ERA sitting at 2.25, he remains a likely candidate to be dealt by Oakland.
"We've seen quite a few of these from him this year, and to come back so effective after a long layoff is really impressive," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We've gotten him back to 100 pitches, and he's pitching in the same fashion as he was before he left. Gotta give him a lot of credit for working hard and keeping a strong confidence and state of mind with what he does, because it's sometimes tough for a pitcher to come back from injury and pitch this effectively."
Of ongoing trade talk, Hill said, "I have no control over it, so I'm just fortunate to be here and pitching for the Athletics and going out there and giving the same effort every time I go out there. It's nothing but my best every time I go out, and I continue to bring that. That's all I can ask out of myself."
Swing and a miss: The Astros entered Thursday with the most strikeouts (787) in the American League this season, and they left it with the most strikeouts in the Majors (800). The Astros struck out 13 times and notched at least one strikeout in each of the first eight innings. Reigning AL Player of the Month Jose Altuve even struggled at the plate: He had only his second multi-strikeout game of the season.
"A strikeout's an out," Astros right fielder George Springer said. "It happens. Yeah, we do strike out [a lot], but a lot of other teams do too. They pitched [well] tonight, so you just have to tip your cap and come back again tomorrow."
What a relief: The A's bullpen was handed a one-run lead in the seventh inning and promptly retired nine consecutive batters to preserve the victory for Hill. Madson earned his save following a perfect eighth inning from Ryan Dull, but it all started with John Axford, who got back on track with a two-strikeout performance in a clean seventh. Axford, who had allowed 12 runs in his previous 11 outings, credited a two-seamer he doesn't use very often.
"That was great to see," Melvin said. "We've seen how effective he can be. He's gone through a little bit of a tough stretch obviously. He works hard to get through it, but I think this was a big game for him, to pitch in a close game like that and get a 1-2-3 inning. His stuff's been real good, it's just been about throwing it where he wants to."
No help for Doug: Fister (8-6, 3.55 ERA) pitched a gem for most of Thursday night, but a costly second inning in which the right-hander allowed all three of his hits was the difference. The A's capitalized off Fister, loading the bases with no outs in the inning, and the Astros were unable to respond. After the second inning, Houston had one hit, a two-out single from Jake Marisnick in the fifth that was immediately followed by an inning-ending strikeout.
"He obviously threw great," Springer said. "He deserves a win. It's tough when your starter throws like that, and you can only score one. But that's the game, and I'm sure he understands that and so do we."
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The A's recorded their 13th consecutive errorless game Thursday, a franchise record.
The Astros didn't have any offense for most of the night against the A's, but the one run they did have was thanks to their Esurance MLB All-Star Game Final Vote nominee, Springer. The right fielder led off the first with a triple to Tal's Hill that went a Statcast-projected 421 feet. He scored on a groundout from Marwin Gonzalez on the ensuing at-bat.
A's center fielder Coco Crisp was ejected at the conclusion of the fifth inning after tossing his bat in the direction of home-plate umpire D.J. Reyburn. Crisp appeared unhappy with the second pitch of the at-bat, a called strike, and he swung through the next pitch to end the frame -- and his hitting streak, halted at 12 games. He said after the game that he had no intention of hitting Reyburn and he plans to apologize. More >
WHAT'S NEXT Athletics: Rookie Daniel Mengden gets the start in Friday's 5:10 p.m. PT matchup with the Astros at Minute Maid Park, pitching against the club that took him in the fourth round of the 2014 Draft. Dealt to the A's in the Scott Kazmir trade last summer, Mengden was promoted to make his big league debut June 11 and has since compiled a 3.48 ERA.
Astros:Collin McHugh (5-6, 4.50 ERA) looks to get his first win in more than a month in the second game of a four-game series with Oakland at Minute Maid Park on Friday at 7:10 p.m. CT. McHugh lost his last start and hasn't picked up a win since the Astros beat the D-backs in Arizona on May 30.