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Sonny Gray debunks need for playoff experience with stellar outing

Oct 6, 2013, 12:42 AM EDT

ALDS Tigers Athletics Baseball AP

The ALDS Game 2 narrative between the Tigers and Athletics involved the experienced ace in Justin Verlander and the rookie in Sonny Gray. Verlander, with over 70 post-season innings under his belt, would be calm, cool, and collected with all the TV cameras pointed in his direction. Gray, who spent most of the year with Triple-A Sacramento, would be  in the pressure cooker for the first time in his career, certainly a burden for a 23-year-old.

Gray flipped that narrative on its back with eight stellar innings of work against the American League’s #2 offense, averaging just under five runs per game during the regular season. He was rarely in trouble, and when he was, he nearly perfectly executed his pitches — a mid-90’s fastball and a dazzling curve — to escape unharmed. The right-hander held the Tigers to four hits, all singles while walking two and striking out nine, matching the seasoned Verlander pitch-for-pitch in the most important game of his career.

The pitch of the game for Gray came in the bottom of the eighth. Don Kelly led off the inning with an infield single, then moved to second base on a ground out by Jose Iglesias. With the winning run in scoring position and Austin Jackson (who hit .300 last year) at the plate, Gray fed him a steady diet of curve balls. Jackson saw six of them consecutively, falling behind 0-2, working it back to 3-2, and ultimately striking out looking. Torii Hunter then popped up to end the eighth inning, Gray’s final frame before Athletics manager Bob Melvin turned to his bullpen.

The Athletics needed Gray to be exactly this good because Verlander was on point from the start. Verlander did not allow a base runner until the fifth inning after recording two outs. Like Gray, Verlander did not surrender an extra-base hit. He allowed four hits, walked one, and struck out 11 batters in seven innings of outstanding pitching.

Had Gray relented even once — and no one would have blamed him if he did — the Athletics would have been feeling the pressure, just like they did from the start of Game 1 against Max Scherzer. And they might not have had the chance to walk off in the bottom of the ninth, the way they did thanks to Stephen Vogt‘s bases loaded, no out, walk-off RBI single against Rick Porcello. Thanks to Gray, the Athletics are ecstatic as they board their plane en route to Detroit for Game 3 on Monday.

  1. NatsLady - Oct 6, 2013 at 12:46 AM

    GREAT Game. I don’t care about either team, and I have to be at work at seven tomorrow morning–couldn’t look away! Just fantastic.

  2. butchhuskey - Oct 6, 2013 at 12:51 AM

    I’ll admit I’m rooting for the A’s this series, and it’s beyond nauseating that all the announcers want to talk about is how great Verlander and Scherzer are. Of course, these guys are phenomenal pitchers and they made the A’s look foolish, but the announcers sound like they’re rooting for Detroit.

    Anyway, good series so far and really could go either way. We’ll see what happens in Detroit.

  3. Jason Lukehart - Oct 6, 2013 at 12:52 AM

    Narratives don’t get debunked in baseball, otherwise they wouldn’t still be narratives.

    Anyone who’s paid attention to postseason play over the years already knew a young pitcher can do well there. Anyone who didn’t already believe that will choose to forget about this game the next time a similar situation comes up, just like they forgot about Josh Beckett, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Moore, and others.

  4. jason9696 - Oct 6, 2013 at 12:57 AM

    It doesn’t matter who wins this series. The Red Sox will be World Series bound.

  5. historiophiliac - Oct 6, 2013 at 1:10 AM

    It probably helped Gray that Tigers batters were so unfamiliar with him. He was great though. Punk.

    • APBA Guy - Oct 6, 2013 at 1:42 PM

      And you’re great at attracting thumbs down :)

      What helped both pitchers was that CB Bucknor got caught in a time-warp and thought he was calling a Maddux/Glavine game from 20 years ago. He irregularly gave the low outside corner and then 2 balls off the corner. Both guys kept throwing it out there, much to the befuddlement of the opposing hitters.

      I thought Verlander had a good observation after the game, saying, in effect, that it is extremely unusual for rookies to be able to harness their adrenaline in the playoffs. Usually they overthrow, but Gray didn’t.

      What I HATED about the coverage was the way TBS had the stadium noise screwed down. 46,000 yelling “Let’s Go Oakland!” must be heard at full volume to be appreciated.

      • historiophiliac - Oct 6, 2013 at 3:45 PM

        Meh, people just hate when you say anything negative about “their” team (true or not). It’s amazing how the playoffs bring out the poor sports/wannabe fans. I bet a good number of them didn’t even watch the game and/or haven’t watched the A’s the better part of the season. You’ll notice that they left their comments after the fact (and thumbs). When I was commenting last night, there were crickets.

        So, how do you feel about Monday versus Sanchez? I’m feeling good about that one. I’m glad it’s a day game, but that will suck for you. Are you coming down with something? You might need to call in sick to work.

      • APBA Guy - Oct 6, 2013 at 10:13 PM

        Maybe Inda and Cur will be able to diagnose what’s ailing me. I seem to be lethargic, listless, probably nothing that staying home from approx 10:00 am PT through about 2:00 pm won’t cure.

        As for Sanchez, the A’s will take the same approach to him that they did against Scherzer and Verlander: be patient, try to get to the bullpen after 6. It must be tough having 3 SP’s that good. Oh yeah, I remember now, Hudson, Zito and Mulder. Except I think Detroit’s 3 are even better.

  6. rollinnumbers - Oct 6, 2013 at 1:31 AM

    yeah…doesn’t seem like the eck loves his A’s much

  7. okwhitefalcon - Oct 6, 2013 at 1:35 AM

    Plenty of inexperienced guys have debunked that (not narrative) angle, nothing new here.

    Hell, Gerrit Cole did it yesterday on the road against the NL’s top offense for cryin’ out loud.

  8. andreweac - Oct 6, 2013 at 2:21 AM

    #tWtW

  9. moogro - Oct 6, 2013 at 3:22 AM

    No grit, just smooth like butter.

  10. sandrafluke2012 - Oct 6, 2013 at 9:48 AM

    1 game debunks something?

    • Jason Lukehart - Oct 6, 2013 at 10:13 AM

      No, one game does not, but many, many games do, and it turns out this isn’t the first time a young pitcher has pitched well in the postseason.

  11. yahmule - Oct 6, 2013 at 11:59 AM

    I vote “narrative’ the most overused word of 2013.

    Beginning in 2014, I would stop reading anything immediately upon encountering the word “narrative.” You all have about three months to get it out of your systems.

    • historiophiliac - Oct 6, 2013 at 3:48 PM

      And, most of the time the criticism is BS and demonstrates an absolute lack of thought about how narratives are constructed or where they go to die.

  12. louhudson23 - Oct 6, 2013 at 1:02 PM

    There have been young pitchers who have pitched well in similar situations….he has been particularly effective at home and the rotation was changed to give him the start at home( a successful move on his managers part,although hard to put in a spreadsheet so therefor no credit can be given to the manager in our enlightened state of denial over the impact of the manager in baseball………….but I do not see how this was debunked…..experience is preferred and for good reason.,but youth is no more a guarantee of failure than experience is one of success…..

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