OAKLAND -– As it turns out, beating the Rangers takes more than the A’s handing the ball to Sonny Gray and pointing him toward the mound.
Gray’s sterling career stats against Texas don’t account for much when Oakland’s bats are functioning as they did Tuesday night. They mustered just five hits and fell 2-1 at the Coliseum, their fourth loss in a row.
Gray was not dominant as he’s been so often against the Rangers, but he was plenty good enough for the A’s to have a chance in the opener of this brief three-game homestand. But, as has often been the case this season, too many scoring opportunities went by the wayside. The A’s finished 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and three times stranded a runner on third.
Trailing 2-0 in the eighth, the A’s cut it to a run when Stephen Vogt’s single scored Ben Zobrist. That put a runner at first with no outs, but Rangers reliever Tanner Scheppers coaxed Billy Butler into a 5-4-3 double play to halt the A’s momentum.
Marcus Semien singled with two outs in the ninth off Shawn Tolleson, but Billy Burns popped out to end the game and snap his 12-game hitting streak.
Gray, who had won three consecutive starts and has at least put himself in the conversation to start the All-Star Game for the American League, went six innings and gave up two runs. He entered with a 1.54 ERA in eight career starts against Texas.
Starting pitching report
Gray (7-3) entered the night with an Oakland record 23 2/3-inning scoreless streak against the Rangers, stretching over his past three starts. He turned in a solid line – 6 innings, 8 hits, 2 runs, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts. But on this night, he had a thin margin for error.
Texas broke through against him in the third. With a man on third, Gray struck out Shin-Soo Choo on a slider for the second out. But Prince Fielder fought off a pitch and hit a blooper to left that fell in front of Ben Zobrist for an RBI single and 1-0 Texas lead.
In the sixth, Mitch Moreland crushed a 2-1 pitch for a monster homer that hit high off the green facing behind the wall in dead center. Gray came in ranked second in the A.L. in fewest home runs per nine innings at 0.33.
Pat Venditte pitched 1-2-3 top of the ninth for Oakland, and the ambidextrous reliever has now thrown 3 1/3 scoreless innings over his first three big league outings.
At the plate
Manager Bob Melvin shook up the top half of his batting order after leadoff man Billy Burns, but it didn’t produce the desired results. The A’s went hitless in their first eight at-bats with runners in scoring position and mustered just five hits total.
They finally broke through in the eighth off reliever Ross Detwiler, when Ben Zobrist doubled and Stephen Vogt singled to score him.
They had a runner on third with one out in the fourth. But Stephen Vogt, hitting cleanup Tuesday, grounded to second on the first pitch and Billy Butler followed with another 4-3 grounder. A bases loaded, two-out situation went for naught in the fifth. In the seventh, it was another one-out situation, this time with men on second and third against lefty reliever Ross Detwiler. Billy Burns flied out to shallow center on a ball that wasn’t deep enough for Eric Sogard to tag against the strong-armed Leonys Martin. Then Melvin inserted Josh Phegley to pinch-hit for Josh Reddick, who’s hitting .120 against lefties this season. Detwiler fell behind 3-0 but worked his way back and got Phegley to chase strike three to end that threat.
In the field
It will probably get lost in the shuffle when it comes to the season’s best A’s highlights, but second baseman Eric Sogard turned in a beauty in the first. He made an acrobatic bare-hand grab of Marcus Semien’s flip to second for a force-out on Prince Fielder’s grounder. Securing the ball was tough enough, but Sogard also managed to tag the bag while falling down.
It’s worth noting that Semien made a pretty turn on a fifth-inning double play, making an accurate throw to first while leaping to avoid the slide of Delino DeShields.
The announced turnout was 14,617. By the timing of the various crowd reactions, it seemed many were keeping a close eye on the NBA Finals.
Jesse Hahn (3-5, 3.51) seems to be settling into the A’s rotation. He’s posted quality starts in each of his past five outings. He takes the ball in Wednesday’s 7:05 p.m. game, with Yovani Gallardo (5-6, 3.54) going for Texas.