Athletics

Gray finds groove, pitches A's to his first victory of the 2017 season

Gray finds groove, pitches A's to his first victory of the 2017 season

OAKLAND — All seems right in the A’s world when Sonny Gray is dealing as he did Thursday night.

After a rough first, the right-hander found a groove and held the Boston Red Sox to just one hit over his final five innings as the A’s rang up an 8-3 victory to start a six-game homestand on a high note.

Plagued by injuries and inconsistency since the start of last season, Gray found the win column for the first time since July 26, 2016. More importantly from the team perspective, the 2015 All-Star showed continued signs of rounding into form in his fourth start since coming off the disabled list.

“Sonny was absolutely outstanding,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “The first inning, they jumped on him a little bit. But he looked as good as I’ve seen him in a very long time. He felt good. He had all four pitches working, and he really put the ball where he wanted to.”

Gray struck out eight in the 100th start of his career. That’s the most he’s punched out since that start last summer at Texas when he’d pocketed his last win. The tone of his postgame media session Thursday was proof that he’s feeling better on the mound these days.

He’s spent so many past postgame interviews searching for ways to explain what went wrong during a particular outing. On Thursday night, Gray got the chance to expand on all that went right. Most importantly, after getting ahead in the count, he found a way to put guys away with a slider that had Sox hitters chasing all night.

“After my last start, I really struggled putting guys away, and that’s something that’s kind of been a focus for a while now,” Gray said. “I feel like my stuff is getting better, and now just putting together a whole start is something I’m going to have to do. But I feel like my stuff is the best it’s been in I can’t remember when.”

That last statement is huge from the standpoint that Gray is pitching back-to-back in the rotation with Kendall Graveman. When both are dealing, the A’s have to like their chances of having a chance to win on two consecutive days.

And Thursday’s victory was big because it helped the A’s wash out the taste of a 1-5 road trip. The Red Sox, who arrived at their hotel at 4 a.m. Thursday morning after playing 13 innings in St. Louis, had won nine of their previous 10 against the A’s.

They scored twice off Gray in the first. But Oakland answered right back with three in the bottom half when Jed Lowrie drilled a two-run homer to center and Khris Davis followed with his 12th homer, a drive to right-center off Hector Velazquez, who was touched for six runs in his major league debut.

The A’s got a two-run homer from Chad Pinder in their three-run fourth when they broke a 3-3 tie and took the lead for good.

Gray said he threw his changeup a bit more than usual. Combining his fastball, slider and curve, it gave him a complete mix to throw at Boston. In light of Gray going 5-11 last season with a 5.69 ERA, manager Bob Melvin was asked after the game if he felt confident to declare Gray was on his way back to the form that made him a Cy Young finalist in 2015.

“I never think that he's not,” Melvin said in backing his pitcher. “Even when he had a tough year last year — everybody's going to have a tough year. There were injuries involved in it. But the stuff is always there, and he's quite the competitor. One year is not going to get me off who I think he is.”


Bruce Maxwell: Kneeling for anthem not 'disrespecting my country or my flag'

Bruce Maxwell: Kneeling for anthem not 'disrespecting my country or my flag'

OAKLAND — Bruce Maxwell’s gesture to take a knee during the national anthem Saturday night at the Coliseum was no knee-jerk reaction by the A’s catcher.

It was something he’s considered for a long time, balancing his own personal convictions to make a statement with how it might affect his teammates and organization.

Think it was bold of Maxwell to become the first player in baseball to kneel during the anthem, in protest of racial discrimination and the inflammatory remarks of President Trump? It took just as much guts to stand before his teammates, manager Bob Melvin and GM David Forst and explain why he felt he needed to do it.

He did so in a pregame meeting Saturday that made for a degree of discomfort in the room, but also seemed to have played out in a healthy way.

“I didn’t want them to sugarcoat or aid me when it comes to the media and their personal feelings,” Maxwell said, “because the whole point of this is the ability to protest (based on) our personal beliefs and our personal choices.”

Many athletes have been critical of the President, with things intensifying across the sports landscape Saturday after Trump, among other things, withdrew an invitation for the Warriors to visit the White House and harshly criticized athletes who have knelt during the anthem, saying they should be booted off their teams.

After blasting Trump on both Instagram and Twitter, Maxwell took the field for the anthem and took the action that will define him in the eyes of the baseball world. Maxwell had been wanting to make a statement in some way. He said he and his sister dealt with racial discrimination growing up. Watching Trump’s rally play out in his hometown of Huntsville, Ala. on Friday further persuaded Maxwell to finally do so.

“This goes beyond the black community, it goes beyond the Hispanic community, because right now we’re having … a racial divide in all types of people,” said Maxwell, who is African American. “It’s being practiced from the highest power we have in this country and it’s basically saying it’s OK to treat people differently. And my kneeling, the way I did it, was to symbolize the fact that I’m kneeling for a cause. But I’m in no way or form disrespecting my country or my flag.”

A’s outfielder Mark Canha stood next to Maxwell during the anthem with his hand on Maxwell’s shoulder, a show of support. Canha said he’s considered kneeling before in protest himself but had chosen not to. As he listened to Maxwell address the team, Canha wasn’t going to let his teammate make his statement on his own.

“I could tell he was getting kind of choked up and emotional about his beliefs and how he feels about the racial discrimination that’s going on in this country right now,” Canha said. “I felt like every fiber of my being was telling me that he needed a brother today.”

Canha added that he sensed some “discomfort” in the room as Maxwell addressed the team. But he also said there was support.

“It was an open forum to ask him questions. It was as articulate as I’ve seen him,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “This wasn’t an emotional thing just today for him. … I think he handled it really well and everybody was comfortable after the session. I’m proud of him for the fact he went about it the way he did.”

Maxwell, who was born in Germany while his father served in the Army over there, said he will continue to kneel for the anthem. He doesn’t expect his teammates to do the same, only to stick to what they believe in.

“I have plenty of family members, including my father, who have bled for this country,” Maxwell said. “At the end of the day, this the best country on the planet. My hand over my heart symbolized that I am, and will forever be, an American citizen. But my kneeling is what’s getting the attention because I’m kneeling for the people that don't have a voice.”

MLB issues statement on A's Bruce Maxwell kneeling during national anthem

MLB issues statement on A's Bruce Maxwell kneeling during national anthem

A's catcher Bruce Maxwell made history Saturday night in Oakland. The 26-year-old became the first player in big-league history to kneel during the national anthem. 

Below is the official statement from Major League Baseball:

Major League Baseball has a longstanding tradition of honoring our nation prior to the start of our games. We also respect that each of our players is an individual with his own background, perspectives and opinions. We believe that our game will continue to bring our fans, their communities and our players together.

MLB media services contributed to this report