Chris AbshireBy Chris Abshire

On the verge of a pleasantly surprising series win over the first-place A’s deep into Tuesday’s game, the clock figuratively struck midnight on the short-handed Astros.

A 4-1 lead entering the ninth-inning? Gone. A series win against the team with the best record in baseball? Vanished.

The A’s tallied six runs in an epic ninth-inning comeback, rocking closer Chad Qualls to top the Astros, 7-4, and force a rubber match Wednesday for the series between division rivals.

It all overshadowed a career night for rookie Kike Hernandez, who drove in the then-go ahead RBI with a fifth-inning triple before adding another run with a seventh-inning double that set up the late lead. It was the first multi-RBI game of his career.

The Trade Deadline was expected to loom over this series, but all has remained quiet on the Astros front. Starter Scott Feldman’s performance Tuesday night may garner some renewed interest around the league in the veteran righty.

He lasted seven innings, striking out a lone batter but only allowing a single run and jamming A’s hitters to the tune of 12 fly-outs. Only Josh Reddick’s solo shot prevented a shutout for Feldman in arguably his best performance since returning in May from a short disabled list stint.

Jose Altuve added to his impressive post-All Star game resume, punching a RBI single to drive in Hernandez in the fifth for a 3-1 lead. Altuve has now hit safely in 11 straight games, batting .408 (20-for-49) during that span.

Marwin Gonzales put the Astros up early, launching a solo shot off the right-field foul pole to give Feldman an early cushion, not to mention free chicken for fans.

That long ball was long forgotten by the ninth. It started harmlessly enough, with a one-out infield single and double. Alberto Callaspo roped a double to quickly change the game’s trajectory, driving in a pair and slicing the Astros lead to 4-3. A fielder’s choice groundout and a walk followed, setting up Yoenis’ Cespedes baby flare into right field to knot the game up.

Qualls was finally removed, but consecutive hits off replacements Tony Sipp and Jose Veras finished the Astros off.

For a team so close to reversing its recent woes — remember, Houston entered this three-game set on a five-game losing skid — with a resounding series victory, this was as demoralizing as it gets.


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