It's always Sonny: Gray 'wiggles' out of trouble in win

Ace right-hander escapes two jams vs. powerful Blue Jays lineup

April 23rd, 2016

TORONTO -- Sonny Gray's work in the final hour of his latest outing in Toronto on Friday evening wasn't quite as sexy as his efforts in the early going, but it was seemingly more significant in the A's 8-5 victory.

Oakland's ace made quick work of a formidable Blue Jays lineup in his first five innings, facing just two over the minimum. Gray retired each of his first eight batters faced and fanned five of his first six -- all swinging, with an exceptionally striking curveball getting strike-three whiffs on four of those occasions.

Gray was doing Gray things, frankly, and to no one's surprise, with Darwin Barney's two-out solo home run in the third inning accounting for the lone run allowed by the right-hander to that point.

But his propensity for throwing strikes early and often was no more in the sixth, pitching with a 6-1 lead.

After walking Barney to lead off the frame, Gray yielded a double to leadoff man Ezequiel Carrera, putting runners on second and third for former teammate and reigning American League MVP Josh Donaldson. Toronto's third baseman drew a five-pitch walk against Gray to load the bases and set the stage for a potentially dramatic showdown starring Jose Bautista, with Edwin Encarnacion waiting on deck.

"They're arguably the toughest 2-3-4 in the game," Gray said. "When you know they're coming up, there's nothing you can really do different, just execute your pitches."

Gray was aggressive, firing two consecutive fastballs in Bautista's lane for a 1-1 count before lobbing an 81-mph curveball that Bautista could only send so far as shallow center field for a sacrifice fly. Encarnacion sent a harder hit ball in the same direction for an out on the second pitch he saw from Gray, who walked Justin Smoak before inducing an inning-ending groundball from Josh Thole to hold Toronto to one run in the inning -- just as he would do again in his seventh and final frame, the three-run outing leaving him with a 2.73 ERA this season.

"The key to the game is probably that sixth inning right there," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "That's one, with no out, it looks like it could get out of hand, especially with the middle of the order. That was key he was able to just give up one run in that inning in a ballpark to a team that's used to scoring in bunches."

"I just kind of tried to challenge them and see what happens," Gray said. "To go through that part of the lineup after you walk three guys and give up a hit, coming out with one run, I was frustrated walking off the field, then I got to the dugout and was like, 'Way to limit the damage.' I dug myself in a hole and kind of was able to dig myself out of it.

"I kind of wiggled around them just enough tonight."