Sonny Gray left the pitcher’s mound at O.co Coliseum after the top of the second inning in a flash of exasperation. He snapped his head forward, pushed his cap back on his forehead and swung his glove abruptly at the air in front of him. This despite the fact he had just struck out the Orioles’ Manny Machado to end a scoreless inning.
Gray later said he experienced a temporary “break” in his command in the inning, and he certainly would throw better curveballs in the A’s 10-2 win Sunday than the one that induced a check swing from Machado. But it illustrated Gray’s competitive nature that made the circumstances of his start seem like ingredients for a strong outing.
For one, the A’s were coming off a loss Saturday night. For another, Gray had faced the Orioles twice in his career – both times in Baltimore – and been hit hard both times, allowing 11 earned runs over 82/3 innings in two losses.
Sunday, Gray held the Orioles to two runs on two hits before departing with two outs in the seventh inning. It was the 10th time this season Gray has started following an A’s loss. He is 8-1 with a 1.71 ERA in those games. All have been quality starts, including seven in which he allowed no more than one earned run.
“Coming off a loss, I know going in it’s games that I really want to put up a good performance and try to get the team back on track,” Gray said. “I think everyone’s very conscious of it.”
And Gray admitted he was also conscious of his history – however brief – against the Orioles.
“Yeah, they’ve gotten me twice there, so I really wanted to get them today,” he said. “And it was awesome when we scored in every inning except for a couple, but (I) just really wanted to go after these guys with my stuff in front of the fans and hope to come away with a good outing.”
Gray has had only good outings in July, as he’s 4-0 this month, allowing three earned runs in 281/3 innings. He has not lost a start since June 13, and his 11 wins are tied for second among American League starters, while his 2.72 ERA ranks sixth. Sunday, he did not allow a hit until J.J. Hardy’s RBI double in the fifth inning, striking out eight batters and departing after Machado hit a two-out RBI single in the seventh on Gray’s 106th pitch.
Aside from the brief lapse in the second inning, catcher John Jaso said Gray showed good command of his fastball to the outside corner and a sharp curveball, and mixed in his changeup against right-handers effectively. Gray said he “pulled” a couple of curveballs (across the plate) in the first Machado at-bat, including the strikeout pitch, “but after that, I came in, took a deep breath and felt pretty good.”
It helped that the A’s, who entered the game with the league’s lowest batting average (.234) in July, rapped 15 hits, while scoring at least 10 runs for the first time since June 17 in a win over Texas. Coco Crisp led off in the first inning with a single and scored on a triple by Jaso, who then came home when Orioles starter Kevin Gausman bounced a pitch past catcher Caleb Joseph.
Gausman allowed a third-inning sacrifice fly to Josh Donaldson – on which Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones appeared to lose track of the outs, thinking it was the third out and allowing Yoenis Cespedes to jog home – and an RBI single by Jaso in the fourth. The right-hander then faced one batter in the fifth – Donaldson, who singled to start a three-run rally.
The A’s had been stymied in Baltimore in June by Gausman, who throws his fastball in the upper 90s and held them to one run in seven innings, but this time knocked Gausman out of the game having allowed nine hits in four-plus innings. It was fitting that Crisp began the barrage – the A’s are 30-5 this season when their leadoff hitter scores.
“He pretty much dominated our lineup last go-around,” Donaldson said. “And today we were able to have some good at-bats, kind of get it going early and just continue to grind it out throughout the day.”