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A’s prevail over Astros, AL West lead is 6 ½ games

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 9/11/2020 By Matt Kawahara
a baseball player throwing a ball: Sean Manaea retired the first 15 Houston hitters. The left-hander gave up one run on two hits in seven innings. He improved his record to 4-2. © Jeff Chiu / Associated Press

Sean Manaea retired the first 15 Houston hitters. The left-hander gave up one run on two hits in seven innings.

He improved his record to 4-2.

The A’s know attaining an AL West title requires toppling the Astros, winners of the division for three years running. Facing their rivals this week, the A’s struck a significant blow.

With a 3-1 win over Houston on Thursday, the A’s won four of five games in an extended series in Oakland and claimed the season series against Houston, 7-3. The A’s lead the AL West by 6 ½ games with 18 games to play, their largest division lead since September 2013.

“It was huge,” starter Sean Manaea said of the series. “Coming in and taking four out of five is huge; just get that bigger lead and continue to build off that.”

Manaea was perfect into the sixth inning Thursday as he, Jake Diekman and Liam Hendriks held the Astros to two hits. A’s pitching held the Astros to two or fewer runs in seven of the eight games played in Oakland, winning all seven. The A’s last won a season series against Houston in 2014.

“Getting through that lineup with the type of pitching we had this entire series was phenomenal,” manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s what we were looking for. It’s hard to do, but it’s what we were looking for.”

Manaea continued his recent resurgence, retiring the first 15 batters on 44 of his 61 pitches and completing seven innings for the first time this season. Since going 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in his first four outings, Manaea has a 1.98 ERA in 27 ⅓ innings in his past five with two walks and 21 strikeouts.

Against an aggressive Houston lineup, Manaea finished the first three innings on 21 pitches and faced only two three-ball counts all day. Manaea said he “wanted to throw strikes and let my pitches work” against a lineup that was“free-swinging.” His walk total over his past five starts reflects trust in his pitches, he said.

“When I’m not thinking about tinkering with stuff and just going out there and throwing pitches and letting them work … that comes from believing in my stuff,” Manaea said. “When you have that belief, that conviction, that little extra at the end, it doesn’t really matter how hard you throw.”

Though Manaea’s fastball velocity was lower than in his previous start against the Padres, he attacked the Astros with the fastball, throwing four off-speed pitches his first time through the lineup. Melvin said Manaea, typically cheerful on his start days, “had a little bit more of an edge to him” Thursday.

“He’s finding different ways to succeed,” Melvin said. “Today, it was more just staying off the barrel of the bat, and maybe less swings and misses than last time out, but equally as effective.”

Josh Reddick doubled to open the sixth for the Astros’ first hit off Manaea, Aledmys Diaz singled and Martin Maldonado hit into a double play to score Reddick. Houston right-hander Jose Urquidy matched Manaea through five innings, but in the sixth, Urquidy walked Ramón Laureano with two outs and threw a fastball that Matt Olson lofted over the wall in right for his team-leading 12th home run.

Chad Pinder singled in the seventh to score Mark Canha, who’d walked and stolen second. Both were in the lineup partly because of injuries — Pinder at third for Matt Chapman (hip tendinitis) and Canha in right for Stephen Piscotty (sore left wrist). The A’s — who will play six games in the next four days — expanded their lead by three games in four days despite missing both key players for most of the series.

“I think we’re happy with the way this series went,” Canha said. “But at the same time, we know the job’s not over. … Especially this next week is going to be a tough stretch of a lot of baseball in a short amount of time. So there’s kind of a mind-set of we’ve got to keep going and keep our head down and keep rolling.”

Briefly: Melvin said that A.J. Puk, who was shut down Sunday with continued left shoulder discomfort, was scheduled to see Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles this week and might be throwing again this weekend. … Chapman did not do baseball activities Thursday and Melvin said he didn’t believe there were plans for him to do so, though Chapman had hoped it might be the case. … The Chronicle has learned that Cal alum Daulton Jefferies is a candidate to start one of the games in Saturday’s doubleheader, with Paul Blackburn and James Kaprielian among the other options.

Chronicle staff wrter Susan Slusser contributed to this report.

Matt Kawahara covers the A’s for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: mkawahara@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @matthewkawahara

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