Sonny Gray pitched 6.2 strong innings Saturday night to show the sellout crowd at O.co Coliseum what they have to look forward to over the next few seasons, and the Oakland Athletics came out on the winning end by a score of 2-1 in a certified pitcher’s duel against the Tampa Bay Rays Saturday night.
Gray struck out five of the first six hitters he faced, finishing the day with seven K’s while giving up five hits and one walk, and Coco Crisp supplied all the offense Oakland would need for the win.
Crisp hit a solo home run in the eighth to add to an RBI single earlier in the game, and he continued a productive offensive run Saturday with a 3-for-4 night at the plate and a stolen base. Stephen Vogt set up the first score with his first career triple, and the A’s persevered against a tough starter in the Rays’ Alex Cobb.
The 23-year-old Gray was sharp from the opening inning, striking out the first two Tampa Bay batters and getting Ben Zobrist to groundout for a three-up, three-down first inning.
Cobb didn’t have such an easy time in the opening frame as he gave up a leadoff single to Coco Crisp, who proceeded to steal second with after getting a huge jump on the right-hander. Josh Donaldson drew a walk in the second at-bat of the game, and the A’s were in position to put some early runs on the board.
Cobb recovered to strike out Jed Lowrie and Brandon Moss, and Yoenis Cespedes grounded out to third to end any notion that Oakland was going to have an easy time at the plate. The right-hander threw eight innings with five hits, seven strikeouts and four walks, and the A’s only had a handful of opportunities to break through against him.
In fact, the A’s wouldn’t record another hit until the bottom of the fifth when Seth Smith led off with a single to center field. It looked like they’d get another when Eric Sogard hit a drive to deep center field with one out, but the ball dropped in time for James Loney to make the running catch, and Smith was caught trying to tag up to first to end the inning on a 8-4-3 double play.
Gray allowed men on in the third, fourth, and fifth innings, but only Jose Lobaton would get past second, and that was a free base given after a balk.
In the bottom of the sixth, Vogt provided the A’s with a scoring opportunity thanks to a leadoff triple, driving a curveball off the right field wall beyond the reach of Wil Myers. Crisp got his second hit of the night in the next at-bat, bringing his teammate home on a single up the middle to give Oakland a 1-0 lead.
Unfortunately Donaldson grounded into a double play to follow it up, and after a walk to Lowrie, Moss struck out to end the inning, but with runs at a premium the A’s did well to score the first one of the game.
Oakland went into shutdown-mode from there on out. Gray was left in to pitch the seventh, and after giving up a leadoff single to Matt Joyce, he’d get Myers to hit into a double play. Loney singled in the next at-bat, and that’d be it for the starter after 102 pitches, and Bob Melvin went to Sean Doolittle in the bullpen to get the final out of the inning.
Loney immediately stole second when Vogt couldn’t find a ball in the dirt, and Doolittle walked Lobaton to put two men on for Desmond Jennings, but he’d fly out to left-center to end the threat.
Doolittle and Dan Otero combined to work through the eighth inning, and then Crisp got his second RBI of the night when he pulled Cobb’s fastball over the wall in the right field corner. It was the 15th homer of the year for the center fielder, and if he gets another he’ll tie his career-high of 16 from 2005.
Grant Balfour’s effort in the ninth was a bit lackluster as he gave up a double to Myers and a walk to Loney to put a little fear in the hearts of A’s fans who still have Thursday’s meltdown fresh in their minds. After getting Lobaton to line out for the second out of the inning, Balfour bounced a ball of Suzuki’s leg to allow Myers to take third, and Jennings brought him home on a single up the middle to make it 2-1 and make the crowd a little more nervous.
Joe Maddon brought in Kelly Johnson to pinch-hit in the next at-bat, and he swung on the first pitch he saw, a curveball that was grounded to Daric Barton at first for the final out of the game.
The win puts Oakland 1.5 games ahead of the Rays for the first Wild Card spot, and they remain two games back of the Rangers in the AL West. They’ll go for the sweep tomorrow afternoon with A.J. Griffin on the mound. Game time is 1:05 PST.