Programming note: Watch A's October Quest tonight a 5 p.m. prior to the first pitch of ALDS Game 2 and following the final out, only on Comcast SportsNet California
OAKLAND -- It wasn’t long ago that A’s rookie Sonny Gray was watching Justin Verlander on television alongside college teammates at Vanderbilt University.
He’ll have a more up-close view as Verlander goes about his work Saturday in Game 2 of the American League Division Series. But Gray will be focused on his own monumental task, as he’ll make his first postseason start with the A’s desperately in need of a victory to even this best-of-five series.
Oakland fell 3-2 in Friday night’s opener, placing even more weight on Gray’s start as he opposes Verlander.
“I’m sure (Saturday) is going to be exciting and there will be adrenaline going,” Gray said. “Just to harness that and use it to my advantage is probably going to be a key to the game.”
To hear his teammates tell it, the poise that Gray displayed over 10 regular season starts will serve him well. Going back further, Gray has done his share of pitching in the spotlight. He helped lead Vanderbilt to its first College World Series berth in 2011.
It was during his days as a Commodore that Gray remembers watching Verlander.
“It seemed to be that he was the only guy people were talking about,” Gray said. “I remember we were at some restaurant on the road and just watching him pitch and watching him throw 100 miles an hour in the ninth inning.”
Gray has someone who can relate to the emotions he’ll feel Saturday. Pittsburgh Pirates rookie Gerrit Cole, the top pick from the 2011 Major League draft, held the St. Louis Cardinals to two hits over six innings in Game 2 of their NL Division Series on Friday, winning in his first playoff start. Cole starred at UCLA, and he and Gray are good friends from their college days.
[RELATED: Pirates ride 'Cole Train' past Cardinals]
“He shot me a text (Friday) and was like, ‘This is weird. We’re both throwing in the playoffs when a year-and-a-half ago we were facing each other in college,’” Gray said. “It goes to show you that you take it as another game and take it (as) doing what you have always done, just like he did (Friday). You don’t have to be overwhelmed.”
The silver lining for the A’s from Friday’s defeat was Yoenis Cespedes. He lined a triple to left field and followed with a two-run homer that provided all of Oakland’s offense. If the A’s can add other contributions to that type of electrifying performance, they stand a chance to even this series Saturday.
Cespedes’ hitting showed no ill effects from a right shoulder injury that hindered him over the final two weeks of the regular season. But he did commit a two-base error Friday in left field when he let Victor Martinez’s liner glance off his glove.
Cespedes joined Rickey Henderson as the only players in Oakland history to triple and homer in the same postseason game.
Bartolo Colon became the oldest Oakland pitcher to start a postseason game Friday at 40 years, 133 days.