OAKLAND –- The Cy Young hype might swirl around Sonny Gray over the season’s final two months, but it will do so without much input from the man himself.
Shocker, right? Everyone knows how much the A’s young ace despises talking up his own accomplishments. He wasn’t about to discuss his candidacy for the award after he went the distance in a 3-1 victory Friday over the Houston Astros.
Neither was Gray playing along when asked about getting the best of a head-to-head duel with Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel, another AL Cy Young front runner.
“I think every time there’s a game like this with a really good guy going on the other side, you ask me the same question every time and I give the same answer,” Gray said good-naturedly. “I’m not really pitching against the other pitcher. It’s the other team and their lineup. That’s really what my focus is going in.”
Ask teammate Josh Phegley, who was behind the plate Friday, and that’s a main reason behind Gray’s steady dominance this season.
“I don’t think it matters who he goes against,” Phegley said. “He’s just out to prove he’s one of the best pitchers in the American League.”
For his part, Phegley was direct in addressing Gray’s Cy Young candidacy.
“I haven’t seen anyone better,” the A’s catcher said. “The stuff that he’s managed to do, with our record and us losing a lot of games this year, has been tough. He goes out there and puts together a performance every time he’s on the mound. So he’s right up there.”
Gray (12-4) lowered his ERA to a league-best 2.06. He also leads the AL in WHIP (0.96) and opponents’ batting average (.198). On a night he said his fastball wasn’t its best, he still kept challenging the Astros with it. And though it didn’t translate into big strikeout totals -– he notched just five –- he effectively pitched to contact and kept his pitch count in check.
That approach, combined with the brisk pace he works at, made it the kind of night infielders relish. Third baseman Danny Valencia, playing in just his second game since joining the A’s from Toronto, enjoyed his first chance to play behind Gray.
“He's amazing,” Valencia said. “I've always been on the East Coast and you don't really hear too much or get to watch too many of the games. But man, he was great. He attacks the strike zone, he's got good stuff. He pitches quick. It's easy playing defense behind him because you're always locked in.”
Conversely, the A’s chipped away at Keuchel (13-6) for 10 hits over 7 2/3 innings and beat a pitcher that came in having allowed just one unearned run in two starts (16 IP) against them this season. Phegley found success going to the opposite field, driving home a run with a ground-rule double to the right field corner.
Valencia homered -– he’s 7-for-12 against the lefty for his career –- but his defense at third also was big. He’s not used to the Coliseum’s spacious foul territory, but he got some advice from former Blue Jays teammate Josh Donaldson.
“I don't like the foul territory. There's a lot of it,” Valencia admitted. “I talked to JD about it. You can't give up on balls here, especially when it's very windy out there.”
The theory is that the A’s last-place standing in the AL West works against Gray’s Cy Young chances. Keuchel figures to receive a boost because he’s pitching for a contending team, but it’s worth noting that another top candidate -– Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer –- plays for a team currently under .500.
Gray was asked his thoughts on simply seeing his name in the mix for the award.
“There’s a lot of season left, man,” he replied. “I don’t think that really matters.”
The hype will follow, regardless of whether Gray glances in the rearview mirror to see it.