Matt Olson homered for the third time in this four-game series, and the Oakland Athletics held on for a 3-2 victory over the host Houston Astros on Thursday.
Olson smacked his 32nd home run off Astros right-hander Justin Verlander in the third inning, a two-run shot that provided right-hander Homer Bailey (13-8) and five Oakland relievers just enough of a cushion. Oakland (87-60) improved to an American League-best 36-19 since the All-Star break and won three of four from the AL West-leading Astros (95-53) for the second time in as many series.
The victory gave the Athletics sole possession of the first AL wild card, a half-game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Astros put up a fight, loading the bases in the eighth after Jose Altuve clubbed his 27th home run to cut the deficit to one. But Oakland right-hander Blake Treinen struck out Kyle Tucker to leave the bases loaded, and closer Liam Hendriks earned his 21st save in the ninth.
Verlander (18-6) retired the final 11 batters he faced and recorded 11 strikeouts over six innings, his 12th double-digit strikeout performance on the season. But his struggles in the first and third proved critical, with his 25-pitch opening frame setting the tone.
Marcus Semien and Seth Brown recorded hits off Verlander in the first, with Brown delivering an RBI double that pushed home Semien after he advanced to second on a Mark Canha walk. Verlander ultimately struck out the side in the first and punched out the first two batters of a perfect second inning, but when Semien singled again to open the third, Verlander hit a snag.
His 0-1 fastball to Olson caught too much of the plate, and Olson deposited the offering into the second deck in right to extend the Oakland lead to 3-0. Canha (single) and Brown (walk) reached in succession following the Olson homer before Verlander settled in and settled down.
Houston got on the board in the bottom of the third on an RBI groundout by George Springer.
Verlander allowed three runs, as many as in his previous four starts combined.
Bailey gave up just one run on three hits and three walks with four strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings.
The Astros finished 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 baserunners.
--Field Level Media