ANAHEIM – Sonny Gray was in dominant form Sunday, though it turned out he didn’t need to be.
A day after being shut out on two hits, the A’s busted out for 12 of them and made life easy for their ace in an 8-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels.
Gray worked 7 2/3 innings, struck out nine and allowed just an unearned run to lower his ERA to 1.60, overtaking Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole for the best mark in the Major Leagues. As his teammates kept piling on the runs, Gray (8-3) remained dialed in as if he was locked in a pitcher’s duel. He held the Angels to five hits and didn’t walk a batter.
The right-hander posted a 1.98 ERA in April, then improved that to 1.67 over May. In three starts in June, Gray has been even better, posting a 0.83 ERA (2 ER in 21 2/3IP) with 22 strikeouts and just two walks.
The A’s avoided a sweep, though it wasn’t the weekend they were looking for against one of their American League West rivals. They let a late lead escape them Friday, then got blanked Saturday. The Angels showed a willingness to help Sunday, committing three errors and bumbling another couple of opportunities in the field.
Eric Sogard drove in three runs from the No. 8 spot in the order. Ben Zobrist, hitting cleanup and serving as designated hitter with Billy Butler out of the lineup, went 3-for-5 with two doubles and three runs scored.
Starting pitching report
Gray seems a sure-fire bet to make his first All-Star Game, and he continued his bid to be the starter. He ranks in the top five in the AL in opponents’ batting average and slugging percentage and on-base percentage, wins, innings pitched and fewest home runs per nine innings.
The only run off him Sunday came in the fourth. Shortstop Marcus Semien booted Eric Aybar’s grounder up the middle for his 21st error. Then Gray bounced a wild pitch to advance Aybar to second and Stephen Vogt allowed a passed ball to move him to third. Albert Pujols’ single to right scored him for the 33rd unearned run the A’s have allowed this season, most in the majors.
Fernando Rodriguez and Tyler Clippard finished off the victory, though Clippard loaded the bases before slamming the door in the ninth.
At the plate
After being bottled up Saturday, the A’s were looking for any kind of offensive spark they could find. It came in the second with help from the Angels’ defense. Second baseman Johnny Giavotella committed an error on what could have been an inning-ending double play off the bat of Brett Lawrie. Then with runners on the corners and two outs, Eric Sogard dropped a surprise bunt to the left side. In an odd-looking development, Ben Zobrist started running down the third-base line and put the breaks on halfway there. When catcher Chris Iannetta couldn’t field the ball cleanly for another error, Zobrist continued home and dodged the tag attempt from Iannetta to score the game’s first run.
Billy Burns used his speed to manufacture the A’s next run in the third. He tapped a ball down the first-base line for an infield single, stole second and then turned on the jets to score when Josh Reddick’s blooper fell in shallow left-center.
Burns added an RBI single in the A’s three-run sixth, when they chased Matt Shoemaker (4-5) and pushed their lead to 5-1. Max Muncy, who has played sparingly in June, delivered a two-out RBI double to left-center to kick the rally into gear. Eric Sogard greeted reliever Jose Alvarez with a run-scoring single and Burns would single home his run as the A’s notched five hits total in the inning, and the rout was on.
In the field
Semien also got his 22nd error tacked on in the ninth, though it seemed it should have been charged to Clippard. The reliever fielded a comebacker and throw low to second for a force. The throw was practically in the dirt and pulled Semien in the opposite direction he was moving, and he failed to catch the ball.
The announced turnout was 35,143.
The A’s head south to open a brief two-game series at San Diego, where they’ll face former Athletic Tyson Ross (3-6, 3.81) in Monday’s 7:05 p.m. opener. The A’s counter with Jesse Hahn (3-5, 3.84), who will also be facing his old team. On Tuesday, Scott Kazmir (3-4, 2.79) matches up against Andrew Cashner (2-8, 4.16) at 12:40 p.m.