In some other section of the multiverse where only some things go wrong for the A's there is a writeup where Sonny Gray is the story. Despite struggling through the first half of the season, and despite not having gotten a pitcher-win since late April, Gray was never going to back down and was going to return in the second half of the season strong. He was going to prove all of his doubters wrong and recapture his soft-contact-inducing former self. Today, on a bright and sunny weekend day, Sonny Gray got the win, and in doing so was showing the baseball world that he has returned to his elite stage.
In our exciting little sliver of multiverse where everything has gone wrong for the A's, Gray has not been himself (to put it lightly), and the reason as to why that is isn't really clear, but what is clear, is that it isn't fixed yet. Gray got the win today, but the story of today's game is the newest Athletic Ryon Healy. With all of the excitement surrounding the newest A's corner infield prospects from Matt Chapman to Matt Olson to Renato Nunez to Rangel Ravelo, Healy was the prospect who was more dismissed. There wasn't enough about him that stood out, and so he was forced to toil away in relative anonymity, stuck repeating AA despite having proven to be able to adjust to and hit the league's pitching the season prior. By the time his name would pop up on prospect lists, most would view him as yet another corner infielder in the system whose bat is hopefully good enough to play in the majors but doesn't truly have a home position in the field. But to start this season, while all of the bigger names above him struggled to adapt to new leagues and new pitching, Healy continued to hit until he forced the A's hand to move him up to AAA, and then he only started to hit better, instantly becoming the best hitter on the Sounds. He forced the A's hand again, and earned himself a callup to start the second half of the season with the big league club, but most of the media buzz wound up focusing on who he would be replacing- Danny Valencia, whose abysmal defense at third base played him out of a position despite his bat. In Healy's debut, he would go 0-4 but played good defense, today, the man who so obviously seemed destined to become an Athletic, would make a name for himself.
In these uncertain times for the A's, the certainty of a victory with Gray on the mound was sorely missing before the game started. And in the first inning, Gray managed to show both the type of stuff that made him dominant along with the type of stuff that has gotten him into trouble all season. He lead off the game with a commanding swinging strikeout of Carrera on a biting breaking pitch in the dirt, but then immediately started showing inconsistencies in his command by walking Donaldson and getting to three ball counts against the next two batters before getting out of the first with no runs given up.
A first-pitch leadoff double spelled trouble for Gray in the second courtesy of Tulowitzki, but Gray was able to get the next two batters to make weak contact and appeared to take command of the inning despite the runner in scoring position. But then Gray fell behind Barney, Toronto's number eight hitter, 3-0 before eventually walking him, and then gave up a line drive double to Toronto's defense-only catcher Thole that drove both runs home after Josh Reddick misplayed the ball off of the wall. No more runs would score in the inning, but Gray's command would continue to elude him as he would walk his next batter and then worked the count deep against Donaldson once again before getting out of the inning on a bizarre 6-3-2-5 put out, with the A's down 2-0.
The A's offense made a splash last night, flashing all the signs of "what could have been" if the full, healthy lineup had been clicking all season. But since the offense hadn't been clicking all season, it is highly likely to change and mutate over the next couple of weeks as trades are made and the team's philosophies towards certain hitters' playing times change, and as a result the lineup for today's game had a very different look than usual. With Jed Lowrie leading off and Yonder Alonso batting behind him, the A's offense made some solid contact against knuckleball veteran starter Dickey but only forced him to throw nine pitches before earning their three outs.
Perhaps to amend the small pitch count in the first, Khris Davis, of all people, worked a full count before hitting a towering, majestic-rainbow of a home run to left-center field to immediately cut the 2-0 deficit Toronto earned in half. Ensuring that the home run would not kill any potential rallies, Stephen Vogt immediately followed the home run with a single and then Marcus Semien worked a ten pitch at bat before drawing a walk to put baserunners on first and second. After Jake Smolinski flew out to center field, Healy, still hungry for his first major league hit after his hitless debut, launched a three-run home run to left field to get the first hit of his career as well as give the A's a 4-2 lead. With family and friends abound in the stands cheering him on, Healy's homer will undoubtedly be a cherished memory for many lovely people.
With the A's taking the lead in emotional fashion in the second inning, Gray promptly allowed a leadoff home run to Encarnacion to begin the top of the third. But following the home run, at least for a while, Gray seemed to settle down. He managed to finish the third without any overly long at bats and started the fourth with two outs on just six pitches. Trouble appeared to start to brew as Gray failed to retire Thole once again before allowing a single to leadoff batter Carrera, placing many ducks on the pond for Donaldson. Gray got ahead of Donaldson 0-2, but left the subsequent pitch near the middle of the plate and Donaldson lined a hard shot to shortstop, and Semien did a nice job of handling the line drive to get a force out to end the inning. In his fifth inning, with his pitch count fast approaching 100 pitches, Gray skirted a leadoff single and some hard hit Blue Jays' contact with another scoreless inning and then cruised through the sixth. Finishing his start strong after a rough first two-plus innings, Gray ended his night with six innings pitched, with two strikeouts and four walks, and three runs allowed. Though the run damage was limited to just one-plus innings during his start, Gray was still inconsistent, as he has been all season, but managed to exit the game in a position to win for the first time in quite a while.
After the Healy home run, Dickey found his groove. The A's failed to get a hit over the next turn through the order, the only batter coming close to getting a hit being Ryon Healy, robbed of a hard ground ball single to left by Donaldson at third. The next A's baserunner in the game would be via a Reddick walk to lead off of the bottom of the sixth after Dickey had retired eleven straight batters, but Reddick was immediately erased by a Valencia double play on the next pitched. The A's offensive effort would not go for naught in the sixth inning, however, as Khris Davis krushed his second home run of the game, this one to right-center field, and extended the A's lead to 5-3.
Semien walking to lead off of the bottom of the seventh inning spelled the end of the outing for Dickey. Storen, coming in for relief, was anything but, as he hit Smolinski, the first batter he faced, and gave up a near-RBI single to rookie-phenom-extraordinaire Healy had Semien managed to slide into home plate with his front foot down. The daylight between Semien's foot and the plate, however, resulted in a correct out call at the plate. A pitching change to Loup and a hit-by-pitch to Alonso would load the bases for Reddick, who would work the count but would ultimately fail to cash in on the opportunity and the A's would not score in the inning despite the large threat, and wouldn't threaten again for the rest of the game.
Ryan Dull entered the game in the seventh inning to relieve Gray, and despite falling behind the first batter he faced Carrera 3-0, Dull battled to retire all three batters he faced with relative ease. In the eighth, Axford, who has been up and down, was entirely up as he breezed through the inning with a strikeout, pop-up, and a ground out. With the A's up by two and determined to close out the game in the least dramatic way possible, Madson entered the game in the ninth inning and made it dramatic by allowing a leadoff home run to contract-extension-earner Smoak to cut the A's lead to 5-4. Luckily, Madson managed to settle down and retired the next three batters without issue, though Tyler Ladendorf showed off his defensive prowess on a hard line drive hit in his direction before all was said and done.
Sonny Gray got his first win since late April but Ryon Healy earned the spotlight after today's game. After spending this entire season buried in the minds and depth charts of fans everywhere, Healy was the first of the next generation of corner infielders and outfielders to debut, and has done so with a bat with obvious and serious pop as well as a slicker-than-expected glove at the hot corner. Ryon Healy put up good at bat after good at bat all game today, and his presence in the lineup and on the field hands down earned the A's a victory today over an extremely talented Blue Jays team. Healy will be an afterthought no longer.