OAKLAND – It was billed as the battle between Sonny Gray and Max Scherzer, but neither wound up deciding the outcome Tuesday at the Coliseum.
It was a former Athletic who spent most of the evening on the bench that made the difference in the A’s 6-5 loss to the Detroit Tigers.
Rajai Davis entered as a pinch runner at first in the top of the eighth and the game tied. He moved to second on a passed ball. Then he executed a perfect delayed steal of third and scored the go-ahead run on a fielder’s choice grounder, a near double-play ball in which Austin Jackson just beat a relay throw to first.
With that, the Tigers tied this four-game series at a a game apiece.
Gray and Scherzer each turned in six innings, though both ran their pitch counts up and neither had a particularly eye-catching stat line. Gray, who entered the night as the American League ERA leader at 1.99, allowed a season-high four runs on eight hits. Scherzer also surrendered eight hits and was touched for five runs.
Starting pitching report
For the first time all season, Gray surrendered more than three runs. He was hit hard in the first and gave up two runs. Then Miguel Cabrera took him deep in the third on a 1-2 pitch, and Alex Avila drove a double off the top of the wall in left-center for a run-scoring double in the fourth that put the Tigers ahead 4-2.
But the young right-hander kept it together and got through six innings, giving up just the four runs on eight hits. He struck out five and walked one, and he had the A’s in position to win by the time he departed.
Gray’s first inning included a four-pitch walk to Victor Martinez, and he’s now issued nine first-inning walks in his 11 starts. But his stuff got better as the night progressed. In his final inning, the sixth, he got Don Kelly looking and Avila swinging on nasty curve balls.
Nonetheless, Gray’s string of 10 starts in a row of 6-plus innings and three or fewer runs ended. That was the longest such season-opening streak by an A’s pitcher since at least 1914.
The A’s relief corps couldn’t make a one-run lead after six innings stand up. Dan Otero, who has pitched more innings than any major league reliever this season, gave up a game-tying homer to Torii Hunter in the seventh.
Then Abad couldn’t hold things down in the eighth and got caught off guard by Davis. Davis was on second with one out. As catcher Derek Norris threw the ball back to Abad, Davis broke on a delayed steal and was sliding into third while Abad still had his back turned, unaware he was even running.
After a walk to Nick Castellanos, Luke Gregerson relieved Abad and got the ground ball he was looking for. Jed Lowrie made a backhanded stop and throw to second, but Eric Sogard’s relay to first was not in time and Davis scored to make it 6-5.
At the plate
What an interesting night for John Jaso. The A’s catcher was hit in the forearm on a full-count pitch from Scherzer in the third, leaving him with a massive welt that was visible just below his left elbow. In the next inning, he turned on a 1-0 pitch from Scherzer and lined a two-run homer over the right field wall to put the A’s ahead 5-4. Josh Reddick had led off that inning with a single, moved to third on Alberto Callaspo’s single and scored on a balk from Scherzer to cut the A’s deficit to a run.
Oakland erased its early 2-0 deficit with two runs in the second, as Jed Lowrie scored Yoenis Cespedes with a double and Callaspo’s opposite-field double brought home Lowrie.
In the field
After his homer put the A’s ahead in the fourth, Jaso made a great play behind the plate in the top of the fifth. With Victor Martinez on first, a pitch from Gray hit the dirt and skipped off Jaso and into the air off to his right. Martinez tried advancing to second, but Jaso sprung up, plucked the ball out of the air and made a one-hop throw to second. Eric Sogard made a nifty catch and tag on the play for the third out.
Earlier that inning, right fielder Josh Reddick made a difficult catch look easy. Torii Hunter’s line drive pushed him back to the wall, where Reddick measured the ball perfectly and made a leaping catch to retire the leadoff batter.
It wasn’t the huge turnout that this pitching matchup warranted, but the 21,549 announced attendance was significantly higher than the typical Tuesday night gathering at the Coliseum.
The A’s have enjoyed success against Anibal Sanchez (2-2, 2.83), getting to him for 10 earned runs over 17 2/3 innings (3 starts). He’ll oppose Scott Kazmir (5-2, 2.56) in Wednesday’s 7:05 p.m. game.