Someday, the A's are going to be so bad. This season has been painful and tough to watch at points, but there have been enough glimmers of hope and good times to make it tolerable (even entertaining!) to watch. I'm talking legitimately bad, the legendary, hopeless type of bad. I'm talking Astros bad (I'm taking my shots at the Astros before they win the World Series and I look like an idiot).
The Athletics had a combined winning percentage of 0.382 between 1977 and 1979, including a 54 win season. In that season, the lineup was a combined 7 wins below replacement level. Do you know how difficult a lineup that bad is to assemble? It's nearly impossible. There's no modern equivalent to that, even at the depth of Pittsburgh's hopelessness or Houston's process. Nine positions, and not a single average player. That's not easy to do. I really commend Charles Finley for pulling that off.
The inevitable march of time and the blind luck that is finding legitimate young baseball talent is going to come for the A's at some point. We haven't been bad in more than 20 years - we've been degrees of mediocre, but under Beane there's always been hope at the beginning of the season and something interesting to watch. Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy – if nothing else, the Geren A's were fantastic at providing young and incredibly exciting pitching. There's going to come a day when the dice rolls all come up snake eyes, no young player works out, and the A's struggle to win 50 games.
I'm mentioning all of this because as I watched today's game, I was struck by how lucky we are to be able to watch Sonny Gray. The 1979 A's didn't have a Sonny Gray. They didn't have anything close to a Sonny Gray, except for Rickey Henderson when he was young and bad. We're incredibly lucky to watch a player this talented, this special, this on his game. This is a privilege.
Today was potentially one of his best starts of his career, and he's had quite a few "best starts of his career" over the past twenty-something months. There was no criticism I could give of his performance – in the past I've nitpicked his performances, citing strikeout rate or groundball rate or walk rate. None of that matters, and I'm dumb. Sonny Gray is special, today was special, and I'm grateful to the baseball gods for providing that to us.
What do I write about a performance like this? He never got in trouble. The closest thing to "trouble" he was in was Ian Kinsler getting to second base in the second inning with two outs. That's not trouble. The Tigers didn't get their first hit until the fourth inning (courtesy of Yoenis Cespedes, of course), and they didn't get their second hit until the seventh inning. That's all they'd get off of Sonny today – one walk, two hits, seven strikeouts, eight innings. Beautiful.
Meanwhile, the offense hummed right along as well. After Anibal Sanchez walked the bases loaded in the second inning, Billy Burns continued his campaign to be the most random Rookie of the Year winner ever by lining a three-run triple into the corner.
That's all the A's would need with Sonny on the mound, but they'd get more. Josh Reddick hit a solo homer in the fourth, Brett Lawrie hit a 420 foot
homer double in the eighth inning to drive in another run, and Stephen Vogt capped it off by hitting a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded in the ninth inning.
Of course, Sonny Gray can only pitch so long, and eventually the bullpen had to step in and finish off the game. Fernando Rodriguez got the call, and, even though he was pumping 96 into the zone, he really, really stunk. It could've been worse, as the strange dimensions of Comerica helped him out considerably; Miguel Cabrera was held to an RBI double on what would've been a massive centerfield homer in basically any other ballpark. He somehow managed to get through the inning only surrendering one run, which is certainly okay, even if it ruined the aesthetic beauty of a shutout.
But the star of the game wasn't Burns or Reddick or Vogt or Lawrie or whoever else – Sonny Gray is a legitimate superstar, an ace, and an Oakland Athletic. Those don't come around that often. Maybe someday you'll tell your grandkids about how you were around for the Sonny Gray era. And maybe, when the A's are completely hopeless, you'll look back on Sonny Gray and think of how good you had it back in 2015.
I just really like Sonny Gray, okay?