A's survive late scare on Cespedes' big night

Slugger belts two homers; Johnson struggles in wild eighth

A's survive late scare on Cespedes' big night

OAKLAND -- Baseball's back-to-back Home Run Derby champ had gone 25 games without a long ball. On Wednesday, he deposited two.

Yoenis Cespedes was also riding a nine-game streak without an RBI, with just one in his last 19 games. On Wednesday, he tallied five.

The A's also beat the Astros, 9-7, to even this three-game set at the Coliseum, despite Jim Johnson's four-run eighth-inning meltdown.

Their record, now 62-38, remains the best in the Majors for a 32nd consecutive day, but their two-game lead in the American League West didn't budge -- again. The A's haven't gained a full game on the pesky Angels, who edged the Orioles, 3-2, since July 8.

They don't play each other again until the end of August, which could amount to a whole lot of scoreboard watching.

That's theatre the A's don't want to see. After all, they know how to create plenty of entertainment on the field themselves.

Cespedes, in particular, thrives on it.

Before Oakland's left fielder exited Wednesday's affair with a sprained right thumb and was deemed day-to-day, he put on quite the show for Oakland's faithful, hitting home runs in back-to-back at-bats off Astros right-hander Brad Peacock -- the first a straightaway shot to center field, the second going out to left.

Cespedes is now 8-for-21 with four extra-base hits since the All-Star break.

"He's been real diligent in his batting practices," said manager Bob Melvin. "He's staying up the middle, the other way, you saw the first homer was to center field. He's aware that sometimes you try to do a little bit too much on the pull side, and his strength is using the whole field."

"He's such a dynamic player, that he's able to do so much more than just hit home runs, but he's the two-time Home Run Derby champion, and that's what everyone wants to see out of him," said Jed Lowrie. "I think he's actually more productive for us when he doesn't try to hit home runs and just lets it happen, because he's strong enough to do it without trying."

Lowrie also hit a home run in a five-run second inning, a solo shot over the right-field wall off Peacock, whom the A's packaged with Chris Carter and Max Stassi for Lowrie last year.

Catcher John Jaso contributed three hits, all the while catching Jesse Chavez's 5 2/3 innings.

The A's righty, pitching on 10 days' rest, limited the Astros to two runs on four hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in the win, his eighth of the season.

Lefty Sean Doolittle notched his 15th save with a scoreless ninth, but the reality is he shouldn't have even had the opportunity to do so.

The A's carried a 9-2 lead into the eighth inning, setting up an opportunity for Melvin to use the fallen Johnson.

"We had a long game last night. The only guy that didn't pitch, so therefore he's in the game," said Melvin. "At the time we're hoping to maybe use him for two, but it didn't happen."

Johnson couldn't even get one out, offering up four runs (three earned) and four hits on just 11 pitches. His ERA is up to 6.92, his WHIP 2.06, and the A's are likely nearing the end of the line with their $10 million offseason acquisition.

The possibility of Wednesday's debacle being Johnson's last outing in green and gold is very real. The A's would prefer to deal the righty for some return, but they might not be able to -- and may need a fresh arm as soon as Thursday.

"He's having a hard time," Melvin said of Johnson. "He's just not getting any outs at this point."

"It's tough," said Lowrie. "It just seems like every ball right now is finding a hole. It's tough, because you root for a guy like that. He's working really hard, and sometimes this game isn't fair. It's tough, because we all know how good of a pitcher he is, and I think he knows it. It's just hard when it continues on like it has."

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.