Sonny Gray had already thrown 100 pitches as he walked from the mound back to the A’s dugout after the fifth inning Saturday. The A’s led by two runs, and in such an early-season game Gray wondered whether manager Bob Melvin would deliver the handshake signifying the end of his outing.
“In the back of my mind I was like, ‘Maybe he’s going to give me this handshake,’ ” Gray said. “ ‘But if I just take a hard right turn and don’t put my hand out, maybe he’ll let me go back out there.’ ”
Melvin did, and Gray’s stubbornness ultimately defined an effective afternoon for the A’s ace. The Kansas City Royals made him work, but Gray held them to two runs in six laborious innings, helping the A’s snap a four-game losing streak with a 5-3 win at the Coliseum.
Gray (2-1) allowed seven hits, all singles, but only two on line drives that left the infield. The first batter of the game, Alcides Escobar, singled on a blooper that bounced off the glove of second baseman Jed Lowrie, and he scored on a Lorenzo Cain single that deflected off Gray on its way into center field.
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Kansas City scored its second run off Gray in the fourth inning on three consecutive two-out singles, two of which never left the infield. Mostly, the Royals showed a willingness and ability to work deep into counts – Gray threw 22 pitches in the first inning, 20 in the second and 32 in the fourth inning, his longest.
“It was frustrating for him,” Melvin said. “Some ground balls just got past an extended glove or whatever. He was keeping the ball on the ground, not a lot of hard contact. The decision was whether to let him go out for the sixth. But that might have been his best inning.”
Gray had finished the fifth – and defused a two-on, one-out situation partly generated by a Lowrie error – by getting Kendrys Morales to ground into a double play on his 100th pitch. He needed just 14 pitches to get through the sixth, striking out his final two batters, which Melvin said was key after the A’s used their bullpen for 4 2/3 innings in a loss Friday night.
“You just look at the way the Royals play, it’s really hard to get deep into games because every single one of them puts really good at-bats together,” Gray said. “I thought I made a lot of really good pitches and they’d either foul it off or somehow find a hole.
“It was a frustrating game, for sure. But you’ve got to settle in and make quality pitches. For the most part we were able to do that today.”
Josh Reddick’s three-run homer off Royals starter Chris Young in the first inning gave Gray an early lead, which the A’s padded with a Marcus Semien sacrifice fly in the second inning and a solo home run by Stephen Vogt in the seventh.
Ryan Madson closed the game for the A’s against his former team after Sean Doolittle, who allowed his third home run of the season Friday, recorded the final out of the eighth.
“When people talk about a guy being an ace, they talk about strikeouts and wins and stuff like that,” Doolittle said of Gray. “But it’s games like this when you maybe don’t have your best stuff, the other team’s running your pitch count up – to be able to get through six innings on a day like today, that was huge for us.”