A’s manager Bob Melvin said it became apparent quickly Tuesday that right-hander Sonny Gray, starting for the playoff-chasing A’s against a Los Angeles Angels team with the majors’ best record, “was up for it today.”
“You could see when he came in the dugout, there was a look in his eye,” Melvin said. “He was going to get after it.”
That look manifested itself in Gray striking out six of the first nine batters he faced on his way to a career-high 12 strikeouts in seven innings. Gray surrendered just three hits and one earned run – but again fell victim to a lack of support, the losing pitcher of record as the A’s fell 2-0 to the Angels at the Coliseum.
It marked the 11th time this season the A’s have been shut out. Five of those games have been started by Gray. With the loss, the A’s fell into a tie for the top American League wild-card spot with Kansas City, but they still saw their magic number to clinch a berth in the wild-card game shrink to three with the Seattle Mariners losing in Toronto.
Gray, who remains winless since Aug. 22, has received two or fewer runs of support in half of his 32 starts this season. Since Gray debuted last year, he is 2-12 when receiving no more than two runs of support in a start. When the A’s have scored at least three runs with Gray on the mound, he is 16-1.
Tuesday, they pushed only two men past second base and could not muster the timely hit to score them. Eric Sogard tried a drag bunt with Josh Reddick on third base and two outs in the fifth, but Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick barehanded the ball and threw to first ahead of Sogard’s dive.
In the eighth, the A’s loaded the bases against reliever Joe Smith on Sogard’s single and two-out walks drawn by Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss. But Stephen Vogt flew out to shallow right field, and the A’s went down in order against Huston Street in the ninth.
“It’s frustrating not to get the win, for us and for (Gray),” Vogt said. “He went out there and threw the ball well and gave us an opportunity to win. Obviously I left a small village of runners in scoring position tonight. It was just really frustrating.”
Overal, the A’s left eight runners on base and were hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position. The Angels also went 0 for 5 in those situations but scored an unearned run in the second inning thanks to some aggressive running by shortstop Erick Aybar and saw Gordon Beckham double the lead with a home run off Gray in the sixth.
Before the game, Melvin had described Aybar as “a serious thorn in our side ever since I’ve been here.” Aybar led off the second with a single and, with C.J. Cron up, broke for second on a delayed steal. A’s catcher Geovany Soto’s throw sailed wide, and Aybar took third base on the error.
After Efren Navarro walked, Gray struck out Hank Conger, but Navarro broke for second on the pitch and Soto threw to second without checking on Aybar, who sprinted home as the game’s first run before the A’s could tag Navarro out in a rundown.
“There was some miscommunication there,” Melvin said. “Aybar was coming down the line pretty good, and we need to stop the runner (from third) there.”
It stayed a one-run game through five innings, with the A’s pushing just one runner past first base against Angels left-hander Wade LeBlanc on Reddick’s one-out double in the fifth. Soto followed by flying out to the warning track in center field, and Sogard’s bunt attempt – though placed well enough to get past LeBlanc and require a sharp play from Kendrick – could not get Reddick home.
“It’s one of the major themes of the last month and a half or so,” outfielder Sam Fuld said. “We definitely had our opportunities, and you’ve got to take advantage of that.”
It made a hard-luck loser of Gray, who equaled his previous career high for strikeouts – nine – by the fourth inning. Gray mixed in his little-used slider more than normal and said he “just felt good from the beginning. … But unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough.”
Gray’s record dropped to 1-7 in his last 11 starts since he ended July at 12-3, tied for second in the A.L. in wins at that time. Run support hasn’t been the only factor – in his previous 10 starts entering Tuesday, Gray had a 4.64 ERA.
Still, asked before the game if Gray could be feeling the effects of his workload nearing the end of his first full major-league season, Melvin said he thinks the 24-year-old has “held up pretty well.”
“You look at the velocity and you look at his stuff, I think it’s still really good,” Melvin said of Gray, who has thrown 210 innings. “No one’s going to feel 100 percent right now, and I think he just falls into that with anybody who’s pitched 200 innings.”