|Astros, Verlander go for sweep against A's|
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Oakland Athletics will encounter one of their all-time nemeses Thursday afternoon when they face Houston Astros right-hander Justin Verlander in the finale of a three-game series.
The Astros have dominated the first two games of the series between American League West rivals, riding a total of 10 RBIs from Evan Gattis to 6-3 and 13-5 victories.
Houston has won seven of eight from Oakland this season.
The Astros have done it without any help from Verlander (8-2, 1.45 ERA), who has yet to face the A's this season.
They have seen plenty of each other in the veteran's 14-year career, including five times in the postseason, when Verlander has gone 4-0 against Oakland.
Included in the four wins were Game 5 clinchers for Detroit in 2012, when Verlander pitched a 6-0 shutout, and 2013, when he threw eight innings of shutout ball in a 3-0 win.
A's general manager Billy Beane got so fed up losing to Verlander, he attempted to stack the Oakland pitching staff in anticipation of a rematch in 2014, acquiring Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel at midseason at the costly expense of Addison Russell and Yoenis Cespedes.
The A's, who already had Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir anchoring their staff, never got a shot at Verlander in the playoffs that year, losing 9-8 to Kansas City in the American League wild-card game, which Lester started and Hammel finished.
With Lester, Samardzija and Hammel all leaving the team the following season either via trade or free agency, the A's haven't been back in the postseason since. In fact, they've never finished higher than fourth place the last three seasons.
Verlander has a 10-6 record and 2.61 ERA in 17 starts against the A's in his career during the regular season. He's 5-4 with a 2.38 ERA in 10 starts in Oakland.
The A's will counter with their modern-day version of Verlander, rookie right-hander Frankie Montas (3-0, 1.25), who has been brilliant in three starts this season.
Acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in one of Oakland's many veteran sell-offs since becoming a non-contender in 2015, Montas has allowed a total of three runs in 21 2/3 innings in wins over Arizona and Kansas City (twice).
Montas pitched twice in relief against Houston in 2017, getting shelled in one inning in each appearance.
He gave up three hits and two runs in the ninth inning of a 10-6 loss to the Astros in his 11th career appearance early in the 2017 season, then served up a three-run home run to Marwin Gonzalez in the ninth inning of a 7-2 loss two weeks later.
Gonzalez had one of Houston's four home runs in Wednesday's shellacking, but the story of the game for the second consecutive night was Gattis.
The designated hitter, who had recorded four RBIs nine separate times in his career before this series began, enjoyed his second consecutive five-RBI performance in Wednesday's win, belting two home runs along the way.
Gattis had been just 3-for-12 with no homers and no RBIs in six games against the A's this season before exploding for four hits, including three homers, in seven at-bats the last two nights.