Gray gives A's warm homecoming, halts Blue Jays
Righty tosses seven stellar frames in opener featuring odd challenge
OAKLAND -- Thursday's series opener against the Blue Jays featured one of the more bizarre replay reviews to date, the outcome of which prompted the A's to try to play the game under protest.
It didn't matter. Oakland won the game, 4-1, on the shoulders of a sharp Sonny Gray, and recovered from a sweep in Detroit to notch their first victory over Toronto in four tries this year.
Gray held the Jays to one run on four hits with five strikeouts over seven frames, with Toronto's only run scoring as the result of the overturned call in the second inning. His breaking ball was biting to its full potential, and he allowed fewer than two runs for the first time in seven tries.
"His curveball was disgusting tonight," said catcher Stephen Vogt. "It was back to the Sonny Gray that I've known for the last year and a half. He's got one of the best curveballs in baseball, and he had it tonight."
"That was the idea, to really get that going again," Gray said of the curveball. "I think the last five or six starts it's been OK, but it hasn't been a big factor. We did some things a little different this week and I was able to find that again."
Oakland initially fell behind in the top of the second, when Anthony Gose hit a grounder to first with the bases loaded and one out. Nate Freiman attempted to tag baserunner Munenori Kawasaki, but after the umpire ruled Freiman missed the tag, he threw home for a force out.
Jays manager John Gibbons challenged the ruling that Freiman had missed Kawasaki, and it was ultimately determined that Freiman had in fact tagged him. In turn, Edwin Encarnacion was ruled safe at home because Vogt failed to tag him.
A's manager Bob Melvin proceeded to request that the game be played under protest, though it became moot once Oakland won the game.
Strangely, the last time Oakland had played a game under protest was 11 years ago to the day -- against the Mariners, whom Melvin was managing at the time.
"There's a tag on the runner which negates the force at home, so Vogt sees the safe call, he thinks that it's a force call," Melvin said.
"You can't change the way you've played baseball your whole life," said Vogt. "I wouldn't do anything different on the play than I did, because the umpire didn't signal that he tagged him, so I have to assume that he missed the tag and get the force out at home. You have to save a run the way you've always known how to save a run."
Gray gathered himself and retired Josh Thole to strand runners at the corners, and the A's grabbed the lead back in the bottom half. They plated two runs against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, the first on a bloop double by Freiman, and the second on a passed ball to score Vogt.
Dickey gave the A's fits from the third to the seventh, but Oakland added two insurance runs off him in the eighth on John Jaso's RBI double and Alberto Callaspo's sacrifice fly. Dickey allowed four runs (two earned) and threw 126 pitches.
"I thought we were a little too aggressive in the first couple innings, but later on, [patience] was the difference in making him work a little harder, and finally got a few balls that we could handle," said Melvin.
Dan Otero and Sean Doolittle shut the door with scoreless frames in the eighth and ninth, respectively. Otero was helped out by Brandon Moss, who doubled Thole off first on a strong throw from right field for the A's third double play of the game. Moss also reached base three times.
Meanwhile, Doolittle was back to putting up zeroes after he had allowed five runs over his previous two outings. He earned his 12th save, fanning two as he set the Jays down in order.
It was a bounce-back night for Gray and Doolittle, but most importantly, it was a bounce-back night for the A's. After their fifth straight three-city road trip, they returned home to grab their MLB-best 52nd victory in front of a buzzing Coliseum crowd.
"Coming back home, seeing the place packed out, that was really kind of a shot in the arm for us," Doolittle said. "It was the boost we needed."