Well that was fast. Sonny had to catch a bus to Cincinnati, so he made quick work of Cleveland facing only two batters over the minimum in a complete-game, 2-hit shutout. Today's effort can easily be described as his most dominant performance in 2015. All of his breaking pitches were working on full-tilt, inducing ground-ball after ground-ball. Cleveland runners, which amounted to only three on the day, reached second base only once. Sonny truly shined like an All-Star.
Before Sonny took the mound, though, the game got off to an inauspicious start. After a Billy Burns ground-out, Stephen Vogt hit a high fly ball to right field off of Cleveland starter Corey Kluber. The ball kept carrying further out, but right fielder Daniel Murphy stayed with the ball, adeptly tracking the carry until he leapt just at the right time to catch Vogt's would-be home run just over the fence. The replay officials would look at the catch to be doubly sure, but no doubt, Murphy robbed Vogt of a first-inning home run. Take a look:
Good play, but that wasn't the only misfortune to befall the A's in the first. The next batter, Ben Zobrist, hit a foul ball down the left field line that fell just at the edge of play. Reminiscent of a certain bobblehead sitting in my closet, Giovanny Urshela made a falling catch next to the tarp to record the third out. I've seen better:
That would be the end of Cleveland's highlights, though, as Sonny took the mound in the bottom of the first.
I learned a new stat today: a Maddux. That's when a pitcher throws a complete, 9-inning shutout in 99 pitches or less. Sonny's efficiency had him flirting with a Maddux all day. Sonny was perfect in the first three frames, needing only 20 pitches. Francisco Lindor broke up the perfecto with a single in the third, but was erased with a double-play. Sonny allowed Murphy a lead-off walk in the fifth, but he retired the next three batters, including a shaky put-out by Brett Lawrie who almost let a bouncing chopper get away from him. No worries, however, as Sonny would continue with a 1-2-3 sixth and seventh innings. Needing only eight pitches in the seventh, he now stood at 82 pitches through seven frames.
Perhaps the only trouble Sonny encountered today came in the eighth. Sonny allowed a hard hit, two-out single to Urshela that Sam Fuld played beautifully to prevent Urshela from advancing to second. Cleveland Manager Terry Francona then used his only joker in the form of pinch-hitter Brandon Moss. Earlier in the week, Sonny was asked about potentially facing his former teammate. Jovial as ever, Sonny said they'd probably both start laughing. In reality, though, neither laughed as Moss represented the tying run and potential spoiler to Sonny's gem. But today the 2015 All-Stars shined, as Moss hit a deep fly to center that Burns made an easy play on to end the inning.
Speaking of 2015 All-Stars, the A's other member of that illustrious group, Stephen Vogt, made his presence felt after being robbed in the first. After going down 1-2-3 in the second and third innings, the A's got a lead-off runner on when Burns walked in the fourth. It was a rare walk for Burns, only his second this month, but today Burns was on a mission to eat up pitches and he succeeded. As the AN comments erupted with calls for Burns to steal, Vogt ensured that all Burns would need to do is trot. In an almost mirror swing to the first inning home run, Vogt again lifted one to right, but this time there was no doubt as the ball landed 20 feet into the bleachers.
Unfortunately, beyond Vogt's shot, the A's were silent at the plate today. The A's had a chance for insurance runs in the sixth with runners at the corners with one out, but the opportunity was quickly erased by a Josh Reddick double play. Otherwise, the A's rarely threatened. The 2014 AL Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber threw eight innings of four-hit ball, but still came away a loser, now sitting a hard luck 4-10 with a 3.38 ERA.
Meanwhile, the bullpen relaxed as Sonny stepped onto the field for the ninth inning sitting on 96 total pitches. Can putting the final touches on a 2-hit shutout ever look relaxing? Yes, it can. First batter Jose Ramirez grounded out (surprise!) before Jason Kipnis struck out swinging. The final pitch, a slider that sliced just over the outside corner to freeze Lindor shall be decreed Sonny's finest of the day. Sonny has his first complete game of the season to earn the win. Sadly, he needed 107 pitches, so no Maddux. Final line: 9.0 IP, 2 hits, 0 runs, 1 BB, 6 strikeouts. Sonny's ERA entering the All-Star break is 2.04.
Now Vogt and Sonny jump on a party bus with Cleveland's All-Stars for a trip across Ohio to Cincinnati for the All-Star game. Sonny won't be pitching, of course, but he will be with his battery mate Vogt in the bullpen, who by the way is wearing a steel plate in his shoe all season to compensate for off-season foot surgery.
Enjoy the series win and the four day break from A's baseball.
- The A's 12 shutouts lead the AL and are the most by an Oakland team before the break since 1972, per Jane Lee at MLB.
- As of this writing, A's are 8.0 games back in the AL West. On July 8, 2012 the A's entered the All-Star break 9.0 games back in the division.