HOUSTON -- A's right-hander Kendall Graveman pitched into the ninth inning for the first time in his career Saturday afternoon, holding a hot Astros club to five hits in a 3-2 victory at Minute Maid Park.
Only once before in his career had Graveman been able to complete eight innings, and he returned for the ninth at 90 pitches only to offer up consecutive singles to Jake Marisnick and Marwin Gonzalez, prompting A's manager Bob Melvin to bring in Ryan Dull with runners at the corners.
The right-handed Dull, who entered the day having stranded all 36 of his inherited runners this season, allowed his first to score when Jose Altuve grounded into a forceout at second that plated Marisnick. Luis Valbuena added an RBI single before Dull struck out Carlos Gomez to end the game for his first save of the season.
"I kind of screwed up his whole deal, but he'll take the save," A's manager Bob Melvin said, smiling. "It was getting a little exhausting. I even said that to him. I told him, 'I made it a little tough on you today,' and he said, 'I'll take that groundball in a heartbeat,' and I think he was proud of the fact he got the save."
"It's too bad we can't pull all of these out at the end, or it's too bad we didn't do enough at the beginning of the game to make it more interesting, but competing is never a problem for this team," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.
Graveman got all the offensive support he needed from battery mate Stephen Vogt, who collected three hits, including a home run, and two RBIs to fall a triple short of the cycle. Astros starter Lance McCullers allowed all three Oakland runs, yielding seven hits and walking four with six strikeouts in just four innings.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Vogt of confidence: On the eve of his journey to San Diego to represent the A's as their lone All-Star, Vogt showcased his value by way of a three-hit day that featured his seventh home run of the season in the second inning to give Oakland a 1-0 lead. Vogt also plated the club's second run with an RBI single, and he scored in the inning when McCullers issued a bases-loaded walk to Marcus Semien.
"I never hit an oppo homer like that in the big leagues, so it was fun to do it," Vogt said. "I got some good pitches to hit and was able to drive the ball the other way, and that's something I've been working on doing this year, and it's nice to start to see it translate into some hits and RBIs."
Missing Springer:George Springer had his 112-game consecutive start streak broken Saturday when Hinch gave him the day off, and it looked like Houston missed him dearly. Springer did enter as a pinch-runner in the ninth inning, just before Gomez struck out swinging to end the game.
The Astros' offense didn't get a runner on base until midway through the fifth and notched only three hits in the first eight innings. Houston is 30-12 since Springer moved into the leadoff spot, and his presence (or lack thereof) was felt.
"We can win games without any one of our guys," Hinch said. "It doesn't make up a team. Obviously, I love playing George Springer, but I think there are nine guys that are pretty darn good players that could've done just enough to win." More >
Defensive doings: The A's completed their 15th consecutive game without an error, which is an ongoing franchise record, having already broken the previous mark of 12 from June 3-15, 2002. Not only were the routine plays made with ease behind Graveman, but the right-hander also got a big assist in the seventh when second baseman Jed Lowrie snatched up a grounder off the bat of Gomez behind second base for the start of an inning-ending double play.
Lance loses control: McCullers displayed superb control in his previous outing, striking out 10 Mariners with a knuckle curveball en route to a 2-1 win on July 4, but the right-hander couldn't give a repeat performance Saturday. The 22-year-old struggled with pitch placement all day, walking four batters in addition to allowing seven hits and three runs in only four innings. Consistency appears to still be a problem for the youngest active starting pitcher in the American League.
"I just gotta keep being me," McCullers said. "If this is my worst start of the year, I'm gonna be fine."
Although McCullers was anything but perfect, he did manage to keep one streak alive. McCullers has allowed three runs or fewer in each of his first 17 career home starts, which is a club record. The previous record (15), which McCullers broke July 4 against the Mariners, was set by left-hander Bob Knepper from 1981-82.
FELDMAN HURT Scott Feldman provided valuable innings as a relief pitcher for Houston, allowing only two hits in 3 2/3 innings pitched, but the veteran had to leave the game in the top of the ninth with back stiffness. Hinch said the move was more of a precautionary measure than anything, and that Feldman is day-to-day.
"With the break coming and he had already done his job, it was easy to take him out," Hinch said. More >
WHAT'S NEXT A's: The A's close out the first half with an 11:10 a.m. PT matchup with the Astros on Sunday at Minute Maid Park. Left-hander Sean Manaea will be making his third start off the disabled list in the four-game series finale, having gone 1-1 with a 5.06 ERA in two starts since his return from a forearm injury.
Astros:Dallas Keuchel (6-9, 5.02 ERA) steps on the mound for the Astros in their series finale against the A's Sunday at 1:10 p.m. CT. Though Keuchel hasn't been his Cy Young-winning self in the first half of the season, the Astros have won each of his last four starts.