OAKLAND – Their baby-faced pitcher led the way for eight innings, then the Oakland A’s finally broke through in the ninth Saturday to stage a dramatic 1-0 victory over Detroit in Game 2 of the American League Division Series.
Stephen Vogt lined a bases-loaded walkoff single to left to score Yoenis Cespedes and send a sellout crowd into delirium and help the A’s even this best-of-five series at one game apiece.
It was sweet redemption for Vogt, who struck out with the go-ahead run at second base to end the seventh inning against Tigers starter Justin Verlander.
But this night was all about A’s rookie right-hander Sonny Gray, who dazzled with eight shutout innings and matched Verlander in an incredible pitching display by both.
Gray was sensational in his postseason debut, allowing just four hits with nine strikeouts. Not only did the 23-year-old not fold, he thrived in the biggest start of his life and gave birth to a new chant at the Coliseum.
He was serenaded to yells of “Son-ny! Son-ny!”, which grew louder as the innings ticked away.
Verlander went seven innings and allowed four hits, striking out 11 and walking one.
Starting pitching report
Gray showed early he wouldn’t wilt under the playoff spotlight. He opened the game with a strikeout of Austin Jackson and allowed just a harmless two-out single to Miguel Cabrera in a first inning that had to chase off any butterflies. The intensity kicked up a notch in the third when 17-year Tigers veteran Torii Hunter pointed at Gray after the rookie buzzed him high and inside. Hunter appeared to keep chattering for a few seconds after, and the sellout crowd erupted when Gray struck him out. He followed by firing a 96 mph fastball by Cabrera for strike three to end the inning.
As Verlander continued to tie A’s hitters in knots, Gray matched him scoreless inning for scoreless inning. He showed remarkable poise in the fifth, when he put runners on the corners with one out and fell behind 3-0 to Austin Jackson. Gray battled back to get the strikeout and Stephen Vogt threw out Jose Iglesias trying to steal second for an inning-ending double play.
The A’s made the call to start Gray over Jarrod Parker in Game 2 thinking it was better to pitch the rookie at home. The decision would have been subject to criticism had Gray faltered, but he more than justified the decision.
Grant Balfour took over for Gray to start the ninth and set the Tigers down in order.
At the plate
The A’s had a couple of golden opportunities late to break through in a scoreless game. They put runners on second and third with two outs in the seventh. Vogt engaged Verlander in an epic 10-pitch at-bat, fouling off six pitches before going down swinging on a 98 mile-per-hour fastball. That strikeout came on Verlander’s 117th and final pitch, and he walked off the mound howling and pumping his fists.
Pinch hitter Alberto Callaspo led off the bottom of the eighth with a double off lefty reliever Drew Smyly, but Callaspo would stay anchored at second. After Coco Crisp popped out, Jed Lowrie drew a walk to put two on. But Tigers manager Jim Leyland called on right-hander Al Albuquerque to replace Smyly. Albuquerque got Josh Donaldson to wave at a breaking ball for strike three and then struck out Brandon Moss to end the inning. Instead of kissing the baseball as in last year’s ALDS, Albuquerque sprung off the mound doing a dance.
The A’s shot themselves in the foot in the fifth, when they mounted their first threat against Verlander. Yoenis Cespedes and Seth Smith both reached on singles. Josh Reddick isn’t often asked to bunt, and it showed when he squared around and popped out to third baseman Miguel Cabrera. Then Stephen Vogt and Eric Sogard both struck out to end the threat. Worth noting: Vogt made contact on his third strike and the ball clearly hit the dirt, yet home plate umpire CB Bucknor ruled Detroit catcher Alex Avila caught the ball in the air.
Bucknor, true to form, invited criticism for a handful of calls. He rang up Seth Smith in the second on a low fastball that Smith couldn’t have hit with his 9-iron.
In the field
Both teams played an errorless game.
It was another highly charged atmosphere at the Coliseum with 48,292 fans on hand.
Jarrod Parker (12-8, 3.97) returns to the scene of his first playoff start for Game 3 on Monday at Comerica Park. He’ll be opposed by Tigers right-hander Anibal Sanchez (14-8, 2.57). First pitch is 10:07 a.m.