OAKLAND – Sonny Gray got back to his old self on Friday night, and his timing couldn’t have been better.
The right-hander threw 8 1/3 sterling innings as the A’s beat the Los Angeles Angels 5-3 in the opener of a three-game series before a charged-up crowd at the Coliseum.
Gray scattered six hits, struck out five and walked two to win for the first time since July 26. With that, he snapped a personal four-game losing streak and surely sent a bolt of confidence surging through his teammates.
The A’s came in having lost eight of their past 10, while the Angels arrived having just swept a four-game series at Boston. Oakland delivered one of its most well-rounded team performances in recent memory and pulled to within one game of the American League West-leading Angels. It didn’t come easy, as Sean Doolittle came on in relief of Gray with one out in the ninth and allowed two singles and a walk. The bases were loaded with two outs and the A’s leading 5-3, but Doolittle struck out pinch-hitter Chris Iannetta to end it.
The A’s broke a 2-2 tie in the sixth when Sam Fuld delivered an RBI triple and came in to score on Andy Parrino’s sacrifice fly. Stephen Vogt added a solo homer in the eighth to make it a 5-2 game.
Gray took the mound in the ninth to chants of “Sonny! Sonny!,” reminiscent of his postseason starts as a rookie last year at the Coliseum. He retired Albert Pujols for the first out in the ninth but walked Josh Hamilton, and A’s manager Bob Melvin called upon Doolittle.
Starting pitching report
Gray allowed Mike Trout’s homer on the second batter of the game, and his only other mistake came on Josh Hamilton’s solo homer in the fourth. That blast came one pitch after Gray didn’t get a call on an 0-2 curve that appeared to be very close.
Melvin, addressing Dan Otero’s demotion earlier today, talked of the belief that his starters could pitch deep into games and save the bullpen in the coming games. Gray delivered from that standpoint, with Doolittle being the only reliever needed as he registered his 19th save, albeit with a bit of difficulty.
At the plate
It was the opener of a critical series for the A’s in front of a big home crowd, and Coco Crisp shined.
This is the kind of performance that’s been his hallmark the past couple of years. He turned on a 1-2 pitch from Hector Santiago in the bottom of the first and jacked a home run over the elevated wall in right-center, his second leadoff homer of the season. That was big in that it answered Trout’s homer in the first.
In the fifth, Crisp laced a ground-rule double to left to put himself in scoring position. After Craig Gentry walked, Crisp came home with the tying run on a bizarre play. Josh Donaldson smoked a comebacker that ricocheted off Santiago and went to second baseman Howie Kendrick. He flipped to second, but Erick Aybar’s relay throw to first bounced past Albert Pujols, and the errant throw allowed Crisp to trot home and make it 2-2.
But the go-ahead rally came courtesy of the bottom of the lineup. After Alberto Callaspo’s one-out single in the sixth, Fuld split the gap with a triple to right-center that put Oakland ahead. Then Parrino, who entered with just one RBI in three different stints with the big club this season, lifted a sacrifice fly to left. It was deep enough, as Josh Hamilton buried his throw in the ground and Fuld scored easily to make it 4-2.
In the field
Gray got a big lift in the top of the fifth with one out and runners on second and third. Kole Calhoun drilled a liner up the middle, but shortstop Andy Parrino was positioned perfectly to snatch the liner and race to the second base bag to double off Efren Navarro and end the inning.
The A’s turned another nifty double play the next inning, this one 5-4-3, as second baseman Alberto Callaspo unloaded a difficult off-balance throw that had enough on it to get the not-so-lightning quick Albert Pujols at first.
Plays such as those helped keep Gray’s pitch count down and allowed him to work into the ninth.
A crowd of 33,810 showed up for the series opener.
Jon Lester (13-8, 2.58) hasn’t faced the Angels since August 2012, and he’s 4-2 with a 4.44 ERA in eight career regular season starts against them. He’ll oppose C.J. Wilson (10-8, 4.59) on Saturday. First pitch is 6:05 p.m.