OAKLAND -- In the first answer of his post-game news conference Wednesday night, A's manager Bob Melvin used variations of the word "frustrating" four times. How else to describe a 2-1, 11-inning loss in which the A's saw Melvin get ejected for arguing a close play in the eighth, squandered leadoff doubles in both the eighth and 11th innings, let Jarrod Parker's most efficient start of the season go for naught and watched Chris Young come within inches of a walk-off home run for the second night in a row -- only to have Astros left fielder Robbie Grossman pull it back at the wall?
"It's one of the more frustrating losses of the year," Melvin said.
The A's have dropped the first two games of this three-game series to the Astros, against whom they were 11-1 on the season coming in, and are 4-9 over their last 13 games. The post-game clubhouse Wednesday night was one of the quietest of the season. In that 13-game stretch, the A's have gone from six games up on the Rangers in the division to two games back after Texas improved to 9-1 in its last 10 games on Wednesday night.
"We've had so many opportunities, especially CY coming so close twice," reliever Sean Doolittle, who took the loss Wednesday night, said of the series so far. "It's only going to take one game for us to get back on track. We've been really close two nights in a row, so that makes it frustrating."
There's that word again. Parker allowed one run in 8 1/3 innings, the longest outing of his career, but the A's went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left five men on base including Eric Sogard in the bottom of the 11th after Sogard's leadoff double. Sogard also led off the eighth inning with a double and two A's hitters couldn't move him over before he tried to tag up on a fly ball to center and was thrown out at third to end the inning.
Sogard popped up with an uncharacteristic display of anger and Melvin came running out of the dugout to argue the call by third-base umpire Doug Eddings, which earned Melvin a quick ejection. It was a close play -- the ball appeared to arrive before Sogard, while it seemed from replays Sogard may have snuck a hand in under the tag.
"I thought he was safe," Melvin said. "Simple as that."
In both innings, the A's asked Alberto Callaspo, making his first start as the A's leadoff hitter, to bunt Sogard to third. Callaspo, who has nine sacrifice bunts in his eight-season career, failed to get the bunt down both times, grounding out in the eighth and popping up his first attempt to pitcher Josh Fields in the 11th.
Melvin was also asked about having Callaspo bunt again in the 11th after it was clear he looked uncomfortable doing so in the eighth and bluntly said the idea was to, "Try to get the runner over to third." Of course, it wasn't Melvin calling the shots at that point. But the A's have to be confident a veteran contact-hitting infielder can execute a sacrifice in that situation.
There was more adding to the A's frustration on this night -- discontent with the strike zone on several occasions, a call that appeared to go against them wrongly in the fifth inning when second base umpire Dana DeMuth ruled Callaspo had pulled his foot off the bag early on a would-be double play -- but nothing was more ironic than what happened to Young.
Tuesday night, Young's bid at a walk-off homer to left hooked just outside the foul pole. Wednesday, he hit a high two-out drive to left in the 10th that did clear the fence -- only Grossman leapt at the wall and brought it back to keep the Astros alive.
"I'm doing something wrong in life," Young said. "I need to change."
Tuesday night, Young put his hands on his head in disbelief when the ball was ruled foul. After Grossman's catch, he just stared. He might have been wondering if Grossman had actually caught the ball -- Grossman started jogging toward the dugout immediately and didn't take the ball out of his glove until he was about halfway there -- and Young said he actually asked for Grossman to show him the ball on the field.
"Just had to make sure," Young said. "You never know. That would be the best prank of all time. You just have to see it to believe it."
It was no prank, and the Astros ended it an inning later after Jose Altuve singled off Doolittle and scored on Chris Corporan's double to the wall in left-center. The A's had scored their lone run in the seventh in similar fashion -- Yoenis Cespedes singled and scored on Brandon Moss' double -- but otherwise the big hit eluded them.
"Parker pitched amazing and was in control the whole night, and it felt like a matter of time before we'd start getting some runs across," Doolittle said. "It just didn't happen for us tonight."
* Young, who entered the game batting .192, has often said this season he feels when he hits balls well they've been right at people. In his first at-bat Wednesday, with a runner on third and two outs in the second, Young hit a ball on the screws but right at shortstop Jonathan Villar to end the inning. He's 0-for-9 in the first two games of the series, but that could very easily be a different story.
"When you hit the ball hard you need them to fall in," Young said again Wednesday. "They just haven't been working out."
* Parker didn't get much to show for possibly his best -- at least his most efficient -- start of the season. Parker needed just 87 pitches to get through the first eight innings with the only blemish being Chris Carter's solo homer leading off the seventh. Carter isn't one to wait around -- in three at-bats against Parker, Carter saw a total of five pitches -- and he jumped on a first-pitch fastball from Parker for his 22nd homer of the season.
"He pitched great," Melvin said. "You pitch like that and get that deep into the game only giving up one run, you're going to win that game a lot more times than not."
Parker had four starts as a rookie where he threw eight innings and allowed one or fewer runs but hadn't done so this season. He came out to start the ninth and got Jose Altuve to line out to shortstop, making this officially his longest major-league start, but allowed a one-out single to Jason Castro that brought Melvin out to get him.
"Just pitching to their aggression," Parker said. "I knew from the start earlier they were going to be aggressive and if I could keep the ball down they'd hit it into the ground."
Indeed, a lot of the Astros' hits seemed to be sharp grounders that found a hole. Parker, meanwhile, still hasn't had a losing decision since May 22 and opponents are hitting .199 against him in that span, but the A's are 8-6 in those 14 starts.
* Melvin was asked about the late at-bats by the A's hitters -- particularly Josh Reddick, who grounded out leading off the ninth on a 3-0 pitch -- and acknowledged some players might be trying to do too much "to try to be that guy that wins the game for you."
"We have to get better at-bats, quality at-bats," Melvin said. "In a one-run game, you have to try to resist being the hero and not get out of your game and make sure you can get a pitch you can handle. Sometimes you get carried away a little bit at times."
* One positive note for the A's was catcher Stephen Vogt making a pair of strong throws to catch Astros runners trying to steal second -- L.J. Hoes to end the third and Jonathan Villar in the eighth. The Villar play was particularly timely, as Villar had singled leading off the eighth in a tied game.
"That's something that keeps us in the game but doesn't really get talked about," Parker said.
Vogt has now thrown out 6 of 16 runners trying to steal against him with the A's, a rate of 37.5 percent. Derek Norris, for context, has thrown out 29 percent of would-be base stealers and John Jaso just 13 percent (4 of 32).
It would be inaccurate to say the A's don't miss Jaso, who gets on base often and can hit at the top of the lineup with some speed for a catcher. But Vogt has really filled in nicely for Jaso while Jaso has been out with a concussion, building a fast rapport with the A's pitching staff and with his work behind the plate, and with Norris also banged up this has the feeling of one of those Josh Donaldson/Brandon Moss-type stories from last season, where the A's have the piece they need in the minors, plug him in and keep going.
* Sonny Gray (0-1, 1.80) makes his second major-league start in the series finale, with a chance to help the A's salvage a game against the now 39-80 Astros. Houston will start lefty Erik Bedard (3-8, 4.28), whom the A's tagged for six runs in 1/3 of an inning in his lone start at the Coliseum this year back in April. First pitch at 12:35 p.m.
-- Matt Kawahara