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Game #41: Good Sonny

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Sonny had his best start in a long time and the A’s offense gave him plenty of runs to work with. A’s win the first game of the series 8-3.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Oakland Athletics
That’s the good stuff.
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

No More Black Hole Sonny

Maybe Sonny Gray is back. Oakland’s recovering ace threw his best start of the season, striking out 8 in 6 innings and recovering beautifully from a disastrous first inning.

Mookie Betts singled to open the game on a meatball pitch. Dustin Pedroia hit a chopper to Plouffe at third, but Plouffe failed to field the ball cleanly, and then Betts advanced to third as nobody went to cover it fast enough. Things were off to a swimming start. Sonny Gray made quick work of Xander Bogaerts with a nasty breaking ball, but Hanley Ramirez went fishing for a ball at his shins and managed to simultaneously trip and hit an RBI single. Sigh. Sonny walked the next batter to load the bases, then gave up a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0 Red Sox. For a team with even average infield defense, that flyout would have been the last out of the inning and 0 runs would have scored. But the A’s are not that team. It ultimately took Sonny more than 30 pitches to escape the 1st and it seemed like he was once again in freefall.

After getting some run support from his team that I’ll describe below, Sonny was a changed man. He went out in the 2nd with a 3-2 lead and threw a 3-up, 3-down inning. Then he did it again in the 3rd, with the help of a fantastic play from Rosie - a gigantic dive to his left to cut off a sharply hit grounder, then a quick throw to first to beat out the very speedy Xander Bogaerts. Sonny retired 8 batters in a row and had actually managed to stabilized his pitch count to 51 after 3 innings.

We did get the obligatory Mitch Moreland home run in the 4th inning - his 4th career home run against Sonny to tie the game at 3-3. It honestly wasn’t even that bad of a pitch - elevated, yes, but outside of the strike zone. But Moreland got every bit of it. Sonny seemed rattled and gave up an easy walk to Jackie Bradley Jr., but he was able to get the outs he needed to escape the inning with a tie.

The 5th was also a very Sonny inning. He got couple of strikeouts using his curveball and…changeup? Huh. Then couple more strikeouts in the 6th. 8 through 6 innings! He left the game with his pitch count at 103, finishing after retiring 8 in a row. It was a great recovery from the terrible 1st inning. Again, had Plouffe fielded that groundball cleanly (and someone covered third base), Sonny could have gotten through AT LEAST 6 with only the 1 run on the Moreland home run.

The reason Sonny was so effective was that he finally showed both good movement and command with his curveball. It seems like it has always been one or the other over the last year - either his curve bites well outside of the zone, or it limps in and is totally hittable. Tonight he was able to throw it better than he has in at least a year, and it was fooling Red Sox hitters right and left. His fastball was as problematic as ever - he had some control issues with it and it was the pitch that got punished for the Mitch Moreland home run. But ultimately it was an extremely positive step for Sonny.

Offense: Pinder and Plouffe Hot, Rajai Not

Rajai Davis managed to TOOTBLAN into a couple of critical outs tonight. The first came in the bottom of the 1st, with the A’s already down 0-2.

Now note that Boston starting pitcher Hector Velazquez was making his major league debut. So after Rajai singled off him to open the bottom of the 1st, what’s the first thing to do? That’s right, steal second base against catcher Christian Vazquez’s mighty arm. Rajai was thrown out despite getting a good jump and it quickly proved costly. Matt Joyce followed up with a walk and then Jed Lowrie hit a booming home run to straight away center to tie the game at 2. An extra baserunner would have been nice, but I know having even one on base for a home run is uncomfortable territory for the A’s. Khris Davis confirmed this by going back-to-back and hitting a solo home run to put the A’s on top 3-2. We saw a truly awful strikeout from Ryon Healy on a slider in the other batters box, but it was overall a good inning.

In the 3rd, more Rajai. After hitting a beautiful line drive to the gap in left field that got stuck under the wall, Davis decided to push it and try for third, and appeared to have made it. He looked good initially, despite an awkward pop-up slide, but the Red Sox opted to challenge. Replay review made it look very close, but still nothing definitive enough to overturn. And it has to be definitive in order for them to change the call, right? Oh, you sweet summer child. This is Oakland. Rajai was called out, then both Matt Joyce and Jed Lowrie immediately singled. It was the second run that Rajai had cost us on the bases tonight, yet I didn’t know whether to be more mad at him or the replay crew in New York. Khris Davis hit into a double play, and that was the end of the inning. 3 hits including a double, 0 runs.

In the 4th, Healy hit a leadoff single right up the middle. Plouffe delivered a double into the left field gap, which was hit just well enough to score even the lumbering Healy and put the A’s back on top, 4-3. Then we witnessed a BOOMING Chad Pinder home run to left center field to make it 6-3. #FreePinder

A little more action in the 6th. Rob Ross Jr. came in to pitch for Boston - they played a 13 inning game last night and used every man in their pen, so they left the struggling Velazquez in for 5 innings. It didn’t seem to make a difference who was pitching, though. Vogt walked, Plouffe singled, then both advanced on a poorly blocked ball in the dirt. Rosales hit a groundball single to drive in Vogt and make it 7-3. Then a Rajai Davis RBI force out made it 8-3. We saw another Plouffe double in the 8th (his second double of the night, and third hit), but no further runs from either team.

Hendriks, Montas, and Madson handled the final 3 innings of the game, respectively. Montas struggled a bit and let a couple of baserunners on, but all three relievers (especially the laser-sharp Hendriks) got the outs they needed.

Good A’s, y’all. They’re back again tomorrow to face Chris Sale, who has...85 strikeouts?! Oh boy.