ANAHEIM – The A’s boarded buses after Sunday’s game to make the 90-minute trip from Anaheim to San Diego, not the usual mode of transportation they’re used to.
If they needed ways to pass the time while rolling down Interstate 5, they had some pleasant memories to reflect on. An 8-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels didn’t make the weekend a success, but it avoided a sweep to a division rival and flushed out thoughts of an anemic offensive performance in Saturday night’s shutout loss.
The A’s jumped on the scoreboard in unusual fashion, with Eric Sogard dropping a two-out bunt that led to an Angels error and a second-inning run. Billy Burns used his speed to help manufacture another run in the third to make it 2-0.
But the A’s built up a cushion for ace Sonny Gray by stringing together hits in a pair of three-run rallies in the sixth and seventh. It’s the type of baseball the A’s (26-39) have shown flashes of this season, but not nearly enough to make a move yet in a wide-open American League West race.
“Obviously we’re frustrated with where we’re at,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “But we’ve been playing good baseball the last couple weeks. We feel pretty good about where we’re at. Obviously we wish we had a few more games in the standings. But this is the kind of baseball we can play.”
It’s no secret the A’s have a ton of ground to make up. They are 10 ½ games back of division-leading Houston as they prepare for four interleague games against the Padres – two at Petco Park on Monday and Tuesday followed by two more at the Coliseum. For what it’s worth, they’re also 9 ½ games out of the second wild-card spot, currently held by Tampa Bay. That’s why one of the hotter topics in the trade rumor mill is just when, if at all, the A’s might become sellers.
But that’s another discussion. Sunday’s on-field activities brought a reason to smile.
Gray (8-3) continues to dazzle in his second full big league season. He allowed just one unearned run and five hits over 7 2/3 innings, striking out nine and walking none. That lowered his ERA to a now Major League-best 1.60. He also leads the AL in WHIP (0.93) and opponents’ batting averag (.194), ranks second in innings pitched (95 2/3) and is tied for second in wins (8).
“He was just Sonny,” Vogt said. “He had his A-game stuff. When we give him some runs, he takes them and shuts the other team down. … He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball, hands-down. He’s an ace.”
Gray also has laser-focus. He didn’t let his foot off the pedal as his lead grew throughout the afternoon. And when manager Bob Melvin went to the mound to pull him in the eighth, Gray didn’t even realize what the purpose of the visit was.
“First of all, he doesn’t understand anything when you’re out there,” an amused Melvin said. “ I said, ‘I’m gonna save you some pitches, all right? He said, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ Then I pointed to the bullpen and he was like, ‘What are you doing?’ It looked like he was trying to block my hand when I put my hand up.”
Another bright spot for the A’s was a 3-for-5 day for Ben Zobrist, who doubled twice and scored three runs. He drew a start at DH with struggling Billy Butler out of the lineup for the second time in four games. Zobrist said his surgically repaired left knee is gradually getting better.
“It’s definitely feeling a little better,” Zobrist said. “It still doesn’t have the total range of motion that I would like. There’s still a little hitch in my giddy-up, but I can push off it a lot better than I was. I think it’s good just to get off my knee for the day (as a DH).”
It all presumably made for a happy bus ride to San Diego. Gray, who went to Vanderbilt, said he was charging every device he had so he could follow the Commodores’ College World Series game during the trip. Vogt, a longtime minor leaguer who takes nothing about his big league career for granted, said he was ready for a trip that would spark some nostalgia.
“I’ve been on quite a few bus rides in my day,” he said. “This is a short one, a lot different than the 14 hours we used to drive overnight. It should be a fun time.”
Left fielder Sam Fuld was sporting a bruise on his right hand after being hit by a pitch in the seventh. He had the hand wrapped after the game but said he didn’t think an X-ray would be necessary.