OAKLAND – Sonny Gray provided an answer Tuesday for those wondering if he was wearing down.
His teammates had no answers for Los Angeles Angels pitching.
The A’s couldn’t take advantage of a sensational outing from their young right-hander and lost 2-0, falling into a tie with Kansas City for the American League’s top wild card spot with five games left. They remain three games ahead of Seattle for the second wild card, and their magic number to clinch one of those two spots is three.
After scoring a total of 16 runs over the past two games, Oakland couldn’t break through against Angels lefty Wade LeBlanc (1-1), who entered with a 5.24 ERA. Meanwhile, Gray was mowing through the Angels lineup for a career-high 12 strikeouts over seven innings. It was quite an encouraging outing for Gray, who entered with a 1-5 record and 5.05 ERA over his previous nine starts. His next start is slated to come Sunday in the regular-season finale against the Texas Rangers.
Starting pitching report
Returning to the mound after a rocky outing against Texas, Gray was excellent. He struck out eight of the first 11 batters he faced, consistently getting Angels hitters to chase his off-speed stuff as it dove off the plate.
By the fifth, he’d already eclipsed his previous career-high of nine strikeouts. Gray struck out the side twice, allowed just three hits over seven innings and walked three. Through five innings the only damage on the scoreboard wasn’t even his fault, as Erick Aybar’s base-stealing exploits allowed Los Angeles to break a scoreless tie in the second.
Gray’s biggest mistake came when he caught too much of the plate with a 1-0 pitch to No. 9 hitter Gordon Beckham in the sixth. Beckham slammed it over the wall in left to give the Angels a 2-0 lead.
Gray was at 98 pitches when he was lifted after the seventh. He finished four strikeouts shy of Jose Rijo’s franchise record of 16 strikeouts set in 1986. Angels MVP candidate Mike Trout went down on strikes in all three at-bats against Gray, twice swinging and once looking.
Dan Otero, Fernando Abad and Ryan Cook did their part to keep the A’s within striking distance.
At the plate
The production of the previous two games was nowhere to be found as the A’s collected seven hits (compared to three for Los Angeles) and couldn’t cash in.
They loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth against reliever Joe Smith, but Stephen Vogt flied out to right to end that threat. They had two aboard in the sixth when Vogt chased a fastball around shoulder level for strike three and halt that rally.
The A’s stranded eight runners and were 0-for-5 with men in scoring position.
In the field
A’s manager Bob Melvin talked before the game about Aybar being “a serious thorn” in his team’s side. Did that ever prove true in the top of the second, when Aybar pulled off a delayed steal of second, advanced to third when Geovany Soto’s throw went into center, then motored home as teammate Efren Navarro was caught in a rundown.
Aybar, who entered the game hitting .338 against the A’s this season, singled to lead off the second. He took advantage of the hitch in Soto’s throwing motion as the catcher tosses the ball back to the pitcher. Aybar broke for second as Soto was ready to return the ball to Gray, and when Soto fired errantly to second, Aybar was on third. The Angels had one out and runners on the corners when Navarro broke for second on Hank Conger’s strikeout.
Soto didn’t look Aybar back at third, and Aybar got a great jump as Soto threw to second. He scored easily before Navarro was tagged out.
The announced turnout was 27,588, leaving the A’s 24,361 shy of 2 million fans for the season with one home game remaining.
In their final regular-season home game, the A’s will send Jon Lester (16-10, 2.41) to the hill Wednesday to oppose Angels lefty Hector Santiago (5-9, 3.98). First pitch is 12:35 p.m.