Sonny Gray is one of the great oxymoron names in human history. You have "Sonny," which sounds bright and cheerful, and you have "Gray," which is basically the opposite. Interestingly, his first Major League start was quite a bit like his name, juxtaposing several positive signs with a few negative trends in what turned out to be a heartbreaking 5-4 loss. Gray was wild and left some pitches up, which was bad, but he settled down as his outing went on, which was good! The lineup once again failed to convert a few big opportunities with runners in scoring position, which was bad, but Josh Reddick hit two more homers and Josh Donaldson added a pair of doubles, which was good! The infield played some shaky defense, which was bad, but Chris Young looked pretty good in center (finally), which was good! Such a confusing game. Are the A's still in a slump, or are they playing well again and simply lost a close one?
After making a pair of successful relief appearances in July, Gray got the call today for his first big league start. He ran into some 1st inning jitters, issuing a one-out walk to Maicer Izturis and then leaving a fastball up to Jose Bautista. Joey Bats lived up to his reputation by stinging the pitch over the wall in center field, and, just 12 pitches into his outing, Gray found himself in a 2-0 hole. His wildness continued, as he walked Adam Lind with two outs, but he got out of the inning by freezing Colby Rasmus on a filthy curveball.
Oakland answered back in the 2nd against Mark Buehrle, however, when Josh Reddick continued his sudden power surge with a monster two-run blast to right. He's been hitting the ball well all season, but has had little to show for it. His power seems to have returned, though; has his wrist been bothering him all season and is now finally healed, or is this just some kind of fluke? Either way, my pick for Oakland's second-half MVP seems to be breaking out of his personal slump.
Gray started to settle down a bit after his rough 1st inning, but the defense fell apart behind him. He started the 2nd by striking out Brett Lawrie, but the ball clanked off of Derek Norris's glove and went all the way to the backstop. The speedy Lawrie reached first base without even drawing a throw. Gray exacerbated the problem by walking Rajai Davis, and a pair of productive outs plated Lawrie for an unearned run.
The defense blew it again in the 3rd. Bautista led off with a sharp single to center, and Edwin Encarnacion followed with a grounder to Donaldson at third which should have been at least a force-out, if not a 5-4-3 double play. Instead, Donaldson airmailed the throw to second and pulled Alberto Callaspo off the bag, allowing both runners to reach safely. One out later, Colby Rasmus lined a single to right to score Bautista, and Toronto had a 4-2 lead thanks to a pair of unearned runs.
Oakland's defense struck once again in the 4th, as Alberto Callaspo misplayed an awkward hop off the bat of J.P. Arencibia to lead off the frame. To their credit, though, Jed Lowrie and Callaspo teamed up for a very impressive 6-4-3 inning-ending double play to avoid the dreaded Unearned Run Hat Trick.
While the defense was busy blowing plays left and right, the offense was busy squandering opportunities. Yoenis Cespedes singled in the 3rd, but was picked off to end the inning. Donaldson led off the 4th with a double and reached third base with one out, but Young and Reddick were unable to push him home. Norris doubled in the 5th, but was stranded. Finally, in the 6th, Cespedes and Donaldson reached second and third with nobody out, and it looked like the A's were in business. Nate Freiman plated Cespedes with a sac fly, but the bottom of the order was unable to capitalize any further. It was nice to get a run and cut the deficit to 4-3, but this was a chance for a crooked number and the A's blew it.
Gray finally recorded a 1-2-3 inning in the 6th, and it looked good. He found his control, he stopped leaving pitches up, and he struck out two batters in the 13-pitch inning. If he can have more innings like that, then Gray is going to find success in the Majors.
Ryan Cook relieved Gray in the 7th inning, but he didn't exactly get the job done. With one out, he served up a solo homer to Jose Reyes to allow what turned out to be a crucial insurance run. In Cook's defense, the pitch that Reyes hit was not bad. It was right on the inside corner, down around the knees, and somehow the non-power-hitting Reyes turned on it and sent it into the second deck in right. Blue Jays lead, 5-3.
The A's came up in the 9th with one last chance to make a move, and they delivered a classic teAse. Closer Casey Janssen came in to get the last three outs, but Josh Reddick sent his second pitch screaming over the 328 sign in the right field corner for another homer. After hitting five homers in his first 315 plate appearances this year, Reddick has now hit five more in his last nine trips to the plate; his OPS has gone from .613 up to .680 in the last two days. That's one way to beat BABIP, I suppose.
The A's still had three outs left, and now they only needed one run to tie it. Callaspo singled to center, and Coco Crisp followed with a bunt to the left side. I'm not sure if he was trying to sacrifice or not, but he placed the bunt so perfectly that he easily beat it out for a hit. There were now two runners on and nobody out.
Norris was scheduled to hit next, but some back spasms forced him to stay on the bench. Instead, Bob Melvin turned to Stephen Vogt to pinch-hit against the right-handed Janssen. I would have rather seen Brandon Moss pinch-hit here, with the game on the line, but Vogt has been hitting well lately (four hits and two walks in his previous ten plate appearances) so I didn't mind the decision. What I most definitely did mind was the choice to have Vogt bunt. He's swinging a good bat, he's a power hitter rather than a bunter, and he already had a fast runner in scoring position in a one-run game. I'd rather see him swing away and give the team an extra chance to tie it with a hit than give up an out and go all-in for one chance at a sac fly. Unfortunately, Vogt's bunt was not a good one, and the Jays were able to cut down the lead runner at third base. Oakland had now given up an out with absolutely nothing to show for it in a situation which absolutely did not warrant a bunt (or did it?). There's no guarantee that Vogt would have done anything productive if he'd swung away, but I believe that this call by Melvin was a huge mistake and I hope that I don't see him repeat it in the future.
The A's still had two runners on base, though, with Lowrie and Cespedes coming up. Unfortunately, Lowrie flied out to shallow center field, and Cespedes flailed at a crappy outside breaking ball for strike three to end the game. It should be noted that Lowrie's hit would not have been deep enough to score the runner from third even if Vogt's bunt had been successful, and that Cespedes looked like total poo in his final plate appearance. He needs to learn to lay off that outside breaking ball.
This was a rough loss, but it was still miles better than the other games we've seen recently. The A's didn't lie down, they didn't get shut out, and they didn't look completely lost. They got solid pitching, they hit for power, and they got multi-hit games from four different players. They didn't play a perfect game, but they showed signs of life and gave us reasons to hold out hope for improvement.
You've gotta take the good with the bad, and there was plenty of both of those things today. Overall, I'd say that Sonny Gray's first Major League start could be appropriately classified as "partly cloudy."