OAKLAND –- Sonny Gray has come through like the ace that he is so many times this season.
He played the role of a leader again after the A’s horrific 12-7 loss to the Angels on Friday night. So much went wrong after Gray gave way to his bullpen in Los Angeles’ eight-run rally during the seventh that turned a 7-2 A’s lead into a 10-7 deficit.
There were three errors in the inning and unreliable bullpen work as the Angels sent 12 men to the plate in the highest-scoring inning the A’s have allowed this season. But Gray heaped responsibility on his shoulders for planting the seed for the Angels’ revival.
He walked Erick Aybar and Johnny Giavotella to open the seventh, then surrendered back-to-back singles to Matt Joyce and Chris Iannetta that scored a run to cut Oakland’s lead to 7-3. Gray left a bases-loaded no-out situation for Drew Pomeranz, and the unraveling had begun.
[Instant Replay: A's blow five-run lead in loss to Angels]
“I went out in the seventh and I’ve gotta be a little better in attacking the zone, making them beat us instead of me just kind of giving it away to them,” Gray said. “… It was just a really bad inning, and it started with me. You can say this happened and this happened. But you walk the first two guys on 10 pitches, you give them a little bit of hope.”
Of course, to lay blame solely on Gray for the A’s worst single inning all season would be ludicrous. It was a group effort to give this one away, and it so perfectly summed up what’s wrong with the A’s this season. They show such promising signs of turning things around, taking three of four from the Padres and then knocking around the Angels for seven runs in the first six innings Friday.
Then disaster hit, and things snowballed in the worst way. It’s hard to imagine the A’s making any sort of move back into contention when they’re capable of a meltdown such as Friday’s.
“You get an extra two runs in the bottom of the sixth, and you feel pretty good about a five-run lead with nine outs to go,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “You’ve got to give them some credit. They smelled blood and they didn’t stop. We’ve gotta take better care of the ball on the defensive side. A team like that, when you give them more than three outs, they’re going to take advantage, especially when you give them five or six in one inning.”
Ben Zobrist let Mike Trout’s liner to left pop out of his glove for an error, a ball that should have gone for a sacrifice fly and accounted for the second out. Zobrist made no excuse, saying he went back on the ball and simply had it pop out of his glove.
The next hitter, Albert Pujols, hit a splitter from Edward Mujica for a grand slam to left that put the Angels up good, 9-7. They would add to that lead over the final two innings.
It was a tough situation for Mujica in his first outing since returning from a fractured thumb – bases loaded, one out, Mike Trout for his first hitter. But that’s the state of the A’s bullpen. Anyone who’s healthy, who has shown even a trace of effectiveness in the late innings, is going to be called upon. Manager Bob Melvin has been scrambling for answers with his relievers all season.
And, Melvin admitted, he probably stuck with Gray too long in the seventh. So often Melvin has shown a relatively quick hook with his starters as they reach the neighborhood of 100 pitches. With Gray struggling and passing the 110-pitch mark in the seventh, Melvin wanted to give his ace a chance to cut the damage off.
“You always feel like with him, we’re one pitch away, and he’s our best guy,” Melvin said.
Gray holds himself to that high standard as well. That’s why he was so hard on himself Friday night, even when there was so much blame to spread around.