-- In the later innings of Monday night’s season opener, as he was nursing a no-hit bid, A’s right-hander Sonny Gray approached manager Bob Melvin in the dugout between innings to talk about -- his warm-up music.
"I’m like, ‘Get away from me. Nobody wants to talk to you right now,’" Melvin said.
That, by all accounts, is just who Gray is. The A’s baby-faced, 25-year-old ace took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Texas Rangers in the A’s 8-0 win Monday night. Even before Rangers left fielder Ryan Rua broke it up with a leadoff single in the eighth, Gray was buoyantly ignoring the convention of a starting pitcher in his situation being ignored by every other person in the home dugout.
As Gray explained, Melvin has given him recommendations in the past for his warm-up music. So when Gray chose The Beatles’ "Come Together" for his new song, he wanted to hear Melvin’s reaction. Never mind that he was flirting with becoming the first pitcher since Bob Feller in 1940 to throw a no-hitter on opening day.
"That’s pretty normal, I’d say," Gray said of his behavior.
Rua’s single ended the drama, but Gray threw eight scoreless innings as the A’s snapped a streak of 10 consecutive losses in season openers and became the first team since the 1991 Montreal Expos to one-hit a team on opening day. When Melvin announced earlier this spring Gray would start the opener, he said Gray "loves the spotlight games." They seemed brighter Monday night -- maybe the result of the A’s new high-def scoreboards -- and Gray thrived under them.
"He was on it from pitch one today," Melvin said. "You could tell the way he warmed up in the bullpen. I’ve said all along he’s made for this, and he showed us why."
The Rangers aren’t being picked to make much noise in the A.L. West, but their lineup is no slouch with a 3-4-5 combination of Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo. Rua managed the only hit -- though the A’s infield also took away several potential hits with sharp defense -- and through the first seven innings Gray allowed only two runners on a hit batter and a dropped fly ball.
"About the fourth or fifth, you started thinking, man, he could do this with how good his stuff is," catcher Stephen Vogt said. "The only thing that worried me was they probably weren’t going to let him go out for the ninth, regardless."
Gray threw 98 pitches and Melvin admitted afterward that 100 pitches was probably his limit after throwing no more than six innings in a start this spring. Melvin said he was about to raise the issue with pitching coach Curt Young when Rua broke up the no-no.
"It was weighing on me a little bit," Melvin said. "I certainly wanted him to get the no-hitter. But it was a little bit of a relief he didn’t have to go nine innings."
Melvin said it looked like Gray had all his pitches working, mixing in a slider that he seldom uses and mixing speeds effectively. Gray confirmed he played with the velocity of his two-seam fastball: "I was adding and subtracting, throwing it 95, 90, 88. I was able to do that really well today, so me and Vogt just kind of kept going with that."
"His fastball command and movement was outstanding tonight," Vogt said. "He was throwing breaking balls when he needed to and mixing in a few changeups. It was impressive the way he was. Didn’t matter what I put down, he was going to execute it."
"For a guy that you think is a two-pitch pitcher with a changeup every now and then, he can turn himself into a four- or five-pitch pitcher," Melvin said. "And that’s what he did tonight."
Gray in the past has admitted to getting too amped up for starts at times. He was excited about this one -- he said for a normal 7 p.m. start he’ll arrive at the park around 4 p.m., but Monday he got to the Coliseum around 1 p.m. But he was able to harness the energy and the atmosphere of a sellout crowd for the opener and execute pitches, he said.
"During the player entrances and stuff, we were all ready for this game," Gray said. "All you hear the week leading up is how the A’s haven’t won an opener in so long. It’s really good to put this one behind us and we can move on."
Gray said he started thinking about the no-hitter after the fourth inning. Facing Rua in the eighth, he got ahead in the count 0-2, then tried to elevate a fastball that Rua shot through the infield into right.
"I wasn’t frustrated. He put a good swing on it. I felt like I made the pitch I wanted," said Gray. "I wouldn’t take that pitch back."
The momentary disappointment of 36,067 fans gave way to loud applause and chants of "Son-ny!" Mitch Moreland lined into a double play, and A’s first baseman Ike Davis made a diving stop of a Rougned Odor grounder to end the inning and Gray’s outing. He became the first A’s starter to win on opening day since Tim Hudson in 2003, and later said of hearing his name chanted at the Coliseum: "It’s pretty cool."
Gray said he feeds off the crowd noise in home starts, and Vogt said it was evident that Gray was in a groove. As with his bugging Melvin about warm-up music, Vogt said, the proof could be found in Gray’s demeanor.
"He’s making pitches and, like, smiling about it," Vogt said. "That’s when you know Sonny’s on. He’s not showing up hitters. He’s just like laughing at himself because he knows, wow, that was nasty."