If the baseball world didn’t know who Sonny Gray was before game two of the American League Division Series, they definitely do now. The 23-year-old rookie, pitching in his first playoff series of his MLB career, was more than sensational. Going back and forth with whom many fans have considered the best in the game for the past several years, Justin Verlander. Although, neither pitcher would receive a decision in the 1-0 Oakland victory, the game was dominated by the starters. Gray went toe-to-toe with Verlander as each pitched gems and punched out a total of 20 batters combined (Gray with nine K’s and Verlander with 11 punchouts). Verlander would begin the game retiring the first 11 Athletics batters, until Josh Donaldson sent a single up the middle in the fourth inning, becoming the first Oakland baserunner of the night.
Gray held a lineup of all-stars such as Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Torii Hunter in check for eight innings, allowing only four hits and two walks. Gray even left Cabrera shaking his head and smiling mid at-bat after some filthy breaking balls. That wasn’t all that happened, though, as Hunter and Gray also had a strange, drama-filled, few seconds in the top of the third, after a fastball up went a little inside, sparking the veteran Hunter to give Gray a look while lipping to the umpire. But Gray wouldn’t be intimidated; with ice in his veins, Gray would strike Hunter out in that at bat, as well as in the 6th. Gray only allowed one runner to reach third base all game, and that runner, Don Kelly, would eventually be left stranded, as Gray and catcher Stephen Vogt would take part in an inning ending, strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out in the top of the fifth. Gray struck Austin Jackson out (one of four K’s on the night for Jackson; yes the Golden Sombrero made an appearance at O.Co. And, Vogt threw shortstop Jose Iglesias out at second trying to steal.
That wouldn’t be the only huge play made by the 28-year old rookie Vogt during the game. Vogt was 0-3, including a 10-pitch at bat in the seventh that would end with Vogt swinging and missing on a 98 mph fastball by Verlander. That would end the second and third threat the A’s had, the inning and Verlander’s night, an extraordinary seven innings with four hits and one walk.
Vogt would be able to redeem himself in the bottom of the 9th after Balfour had pitched a 1-2-3 top of the ninth. After Yoenis Cespedes and Seth Smith singled off of Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque and Josh Reddick was intentionally walked to load the bases, with no outs, Jim Leyland would make a move and replace Alburquerque with Rick Porcello. With a 1-1 count, Vogt would hit a pitch past the diving Iglesias to send Cespedes home for the game’s only run. This resulted in fans erupting and tearing the metaphorical lid off of the old coliseum that has seen plenty of negative publicity in the weeks leading up to the postseason.
Before the single by Vogt, the A’s were 0-8 in the series with runners in scoring position, including having first and second with no outs in the fifth and Alberto Callaspo being stranded at second after a pinch-hit lead off double in the eighth inning. The A’s, who had lost game one at home to the Tigers 3-2 on Friday were in desperate need of a win before heading to Detroit for two games.
The Tigers can’t be too pleased with their offensive performance these past games. Even with three runs in the 1st inning of Friday’s game leading to a win in game one, the Tigers have failed to score since; a span of 17 innings.
Even with a no decision on Gray’s young postseason resume, every Tiger and Athletic would accept Gray as MVP for the huge game, and the 48,000 plus fans in attendance, who chanted “Sonny, Sonny” when his amazing night was done after the eighth inning, would second that.
With the series tied one game a piece, and game three on Monday, the A’s look to Jarrod Parker to give them an edge and the Tigers head home with the AL earned run average leader, Anibal Sanchez, on the mound.