Sonny Gray matched Justin Verlander pitch-for-pitch (plus a bit more) on Saturday night: a rookie versus an MVP and Cy Young winner. The perfect setup.
Neither Gray nor Verlander factored into the decision. But it didn’t matter. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning, Stephen Vogt knocked Rick Porcello’s fastball into left field and just like that, the A’s took Game 2 by a final tally of 1-0.
Yoenis Cespedes and Seth Smith started the ninth with singles off of Al Alburquerque, who worked out of a jam in the bottom of the eighth by striking out Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss after Drew Smyly put runners on first and second.
Alburquerque threw four wide ones to Josh Reddick before Jim Leyland trotted out to the mound to summon Rick Porcello. Porcello, a starter during the regular season, threw just three pitches, one up in the zone, one in and one outside of the strike zone. Yet, Vogt, a 28-year-old rookie, managed to line it into shallow left field.
Before the A’s drew from their bag of walk-off wins, it was all about pitching.
Verlander pitched seven scoreless innings, struck out 11 and yielded just four hits. He was mostly fastballs, throwing 71. The veteran also threw 23 curveballs and 17 changeups.
The perception that an “off” regular season, at least by his standards, would forecast an “off” postseason proved to be a false assumption.
Gray, meanwhile, logged eight innings, struck out nine and surrendered four hits. The rookie mainly used a fastball-curveball combination to baffle Tigers hitters.
Opportunities to score were scarce. Detroit jumped on Bartolo Colon early in Game 1, but Gray prevented a repeat of that disaster.
Gray retired seven consecutive batters at one point, and a grand total of three batters reached second against Oakland’s budding ace.
Oakland blew chances in the fifth, seventh and eighth innings. In all three of those three innings, runners occupied first and second. That was about it, however.
Detroit could’ve broken through against Gray in the fifth, when they had runners on first and third with one out. Omar Infante singled and Jose Iglesias occupied third and first, respectively. However, Gray flipped a nasty off-speed pitch past Austin Jackson’s bat, and in the process, Iglesias was caught stealing to end the threat.