It wasn’t, on its own, a bad pitch. That was the common consensus from the man who threw it, the man who called it and their manager.
But requiring consideration was the man to whom it was thrown: Angels center fielder Mike Trout, one of the best hitters in baseball. Trout generates much of his power on pitches to the lower and inner halves of the strike zone. A’s right hander Sonny Gray’s first-pitch fastball in the sixth inning came in low and ran inside. And Trout launched a two-run home run that propelled the Angels over the A’s on Monday night, 4-1.
“For anybody else it’s a pretty good pitch,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “To Trout it’s probably not. I mean, he’s kind of like a lefty, he likes that ball down and in.
“If you’re just looking at the particular pitch, it’s not really a bad pitch. It’s down and in and at the knees. Most guys roll over that. He doesn’t.”
Trout hit the 93-mph sinker just to the left of center field, where it ricocheted off of the cement façade of some bleacher seats and into a camera well.
“The movement on that pitch alone gets most people to extend on it,” said A’s catcher Stephen Vogt. “But he kept his hands inside because that’s just what Mike Trout does. It’s ridiculous what he’s able to do with it.”
As quickly as Trout’s ball left the playing field, the Angels built a 3-0 lead against Gray, who hadn’t allowed a runner past first base in the first five innings. It happened over the course of three pitches: A double to right field by Yunel Escobar, a first-pitch single to center by Daniel Nava that scored Escobar, and the pitch to Trout.
Nava and Trout had both taken the first pitch in each of their previous two at-bats and worked deep counts. Both of Trout’s at-bats had gone to full counts, resulting in a walk and a strikeout. The third time through, however, both jumped on first-pitch fastballs.
“I watched (the film) afterward and I thought I made some pretty good pitches,” Gray said. “Nava put a good swing on the ball. And then Trout to kind of cap off the inning was kind of the dagger for us.”
Gray has had better success against Trout over their careers than many pitchers. In 31 plate appearances against Gray going into that sixth inning, Trout had five hits, for a .172 batting average, and 12 strikeouts. The home run, though, was his third against Gray. No other player has homered off Gray three times in the majors, and only one other, Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland, has done so twice.
“Looking back, when I threw the ball and released it, I was like, that was a good sinker,” Gray said. “And just to him it kind of sunk a little bit too much and went right into his barrel. He’s one of the best players in the game. You can make good pitches sometimes and guys like Trout can do some damage for sure.”
Gray did not allow a runner into scoring position outside of that three-pitch sequence but still absorbed his first loss of the season. He received no offensive support, as the A’s lone run came on Marcus Semien’s two-out single in the ninth. But that was not for a lack of chances.
The A’s put nine runners on base in the first six innings without scoring. Coco Crisp hit a one-out triple in the fifth but was stranded there as Chris Coghlan flied out to shallow left field, Josh Reddick was intentionally walked and Danny Valencia grounded out against Angels starter Nick Tropeano.
“He was good,” Vogt said of Tropeano. “He wasn’t throwing anything back-to-back. He was mixing speeds, mixing pitches really well. He kept us off-balance.”
After the Angels took a three-run lead, Vogt walked and Jed Lowrie singled to start the bottom of the sixth. But pinch-hitter Billy Butler bounced into a double play and Yonder Alonso flied out, leaving Vogt on third.
“We weren’t able to come up with a big hit when we did get guys into scoring position,” Vogt said. “We’ve got to be better than that.”
A modest three-game winning streak ended for the A’s, who were returning on Monday night from a sweep of the Mariners in Seattle and had their ace going in the opener of a six-game homestand.
“I thought I threw the ball pretty well tonight,” Gray said. “My stuff was really good. It’s just kind of three pitches didn’t go our way. And they capitalized big-time.”