Athletics

Oakland rekindles love affair with baseball

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Oakland rekindles love affair with baseball

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND -- Bob Melvin saw Ryan Cook in the hallway outside his office, hugged him and said, Its a start.And Cook agreed. For him, and for the Oakland Athletics, its a hell of a start.Then again, baseball is a cruel master, and it punishes with the same swiftness as it rewards. The demands of staying in the fight are far greater than getting in it in the first place. They even give the process by which swift improvement is followed by equally swift retrenchment.The Plexiglass Principle. A fancy phrase for regressing back toward the mean.And we mention this only to remind one and all that the hard part has just begun, now that the fun is over.This night, a 6-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers in the fifth game of this fly-or-die American League Division Series, is one that will last with the players a good long while. They got to see Detroits Justin Verlander at the lung-constricting top of his game, so much so that the atmosphere in the Coliseum started to thin.Then it occurred to some nameless soul or souls in the crowd that this season demanded more, and at the end of the seventh inning, after Yoenis Cespedes had popped up to Prince Fielder and Verlander had caught Seth Smith and Josh Reddick looking at bastard pitches, they began a slow but growing roar.They could do nothing about Verlander nobody could but they could see to it that their team would not go out feeling like failures.So they roared, and they chanted, and they did not stop even when Verlander stopped with a seamless ninth inning. They booed the Tigers for a few moments, and then started chanting Lets Go Oak-Land to salute their freshly fallen favorites.And it struck a chord, enough to make the players stay and salute them back rather than slink to a dry and morose clubhouse. They tried to be a force in the game, which technically is impossible and on this night was a ludicrous suggestion, but they were noticed.I don't know if you believe this, Detroit manager Jim Leyland said, (but) I told one of my coaches on the bench, I said, We need about a four spot to take this crowd out of this thing (which they got in the seventh inning to turn 2-0 into the final margin).And we never did take them out of it. They were through them through the thick and thin. As we were celebrating, they were applauding their players. It was a great gesture on the fans' part. And they're the real deal. This was no fluke, they're very impressive.Leyland was saluting the As at the end, for he is faced with the knowledge that he enters the ALCS against either New York or Baltimore able to use Verlander only in Game 3, or if he stretches, Games 3 and 7. It took that much to beat down the As, and it would have taken even more to convince Verlander to leave for the sake of prudence. As Leyland said, He had a complete game look in his eye.Oakland, on the other hand, went as far as they had the right to hope because of that. The As learned how to win, how to keep winning, and how to run with the swiftest. They even learned how to be the darlings of a town whose fans have been beaten down by bad results and reluctant ownership.And it is very possible that they will never have a more enjoyable season in their lives.On the other hand, as we said, baseballs cruelties are many and varied, and one of them is the suddenness of the landing. The offseason can be a valuable time for recharging, but it also hold uncertainties, and in one case, long and concentrated mourning.Pat Neshek packed his bag slowly while media types crowded around Coco Crisp. He packed his hats, his workout clothes, even a box of Bazooka bubble gum, all in silence, as he began the long trip home to resume mourning for his son, who died the night the As clinched the AL West, and the day after he was born.Neshek did stop for a postgame meal with A.J. Griffin and Evan Scribner, and share the last few shards of a great season and a horrible October, because especially at times like those that await him and his wife, a smile is worth a million dollars, and the chant of 36,000 of his newest friends at least a billion.So yes, the off-season is filled with promise and trepidation, continuity and change. This roster will be altered in the winter because all rosters are, but they will always have 2012 together, and the sound of Lets Go Oak-Land in their heads for as long as their heads will hold it.This isnt what people mean by the hometown discount, but its a much better definition than the one in common use. Oakland regained its love for baseball, its team, and for the attitude and aptitude that team brought to a town that responds to those qualities most of all. Oakland went Thursday night. It went big.

With Yankees on the prowl, error costs Sonny Gray in loss to Blue Jays

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USATSI

With Yankees on the prowl, error costs Sonny Gray in loss to Blue Jays

BOX SCORE

Sonny Gray walked off the mound after a scoreless bottom of the sixth Tuesday in Toronto.

Was it the last inning he’ll pitch in green and gold?

That’s the dominant storyline around the A’s right now, especially in light of Tuesday afternoon’s revelation that the Yankees are making a run at acquiring both Gray and first baseman Yonder Alonso from Oakland in a package deal.

MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported multiple sources as saying the teams were “making progress” on a deal that would send both players to the Big Apple.

The A’s have been scouting the Yankees’ farm system recently, along with the systems of other contending teams who are considering Gray. The speculation surrounding Alonso, a free agent this winter, has been light in recent weeks except for the Yankees’ known interest. But after New York acquired corner infielder Todd Frazier from the White Sox last week, it seemed the Yankees’ need for Alonso might have lessened. Apparently, that’s not the case.

Gray struck out nine over six innings in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Blue Jays, which leaves the A’s 1-4 so far on this seven-game road trip. All four runs off him came in the second, when his own throwing error toward second base helped open the gates to the only rally Toronto needed. Ryan Goins had a two-out two-run double and Jose Bautista also doubled home a run in the inning, with all four runs off Gray unearned.

MLB.com also reported earlier Tuesday that the A’s had a particular interest in Yankees Single-A center fielder Estevan Florial, and that infielder/outfielder Jorge Mateo, ranked New York’s fourth-best prospect by Baseball America before the season, could also enter the equation. That same report mentioned that such elite Yankee prospects as shortstop Gleyber Torres, outfielder Clint Frazier and pitchers Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield would be all but untouchable. All are among New York’s top-10 prospects.

But for a deal that includes both Gray and Alonso, it stands to reason the A’s could ask for the inclusion of one or more of those four in a deal.

The Yankees aren’t the only team that has an enticing pool of prospects that could make for a match with Oakland. Houston, known to be going after a starter, has multiple outfielders who could be attractive to the A’s. The Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers are among other teams in search of pitching who could put together competitive offers.

Gray’s next scheduled start would come Sunday at home against the Minnesota Twins, one day before the non-waiver trade deadline.

Decision time for A's: Trade Sonny Gray now or later?

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AP

Decision time for A's: Trade Sonny Gray now or later?

As Sonny Gray prepares to take the mound against Toronto on Tuesday night, there’s not a hotter name in the rumor mill as the major leagues’ non-waiver trade deadline approaches Monday.

Yet there’s a contradiction attached to the A’s right-hander. He is simultaneously the likeliest Athletic to be traded, and the toughest to pry away simply because of what the team will demand in return.

The markets for first baseman Yonder Alonso and second baseman Jed Lowrie haven’t developed as expected, to the point that you wonder how much the A’s could even get in return for them right now.

That focuses the spotlight squarely on Gray, 27, who has posted a 1.62 ERA over his last five starts and comes with two more seasons of team control before he hits free agency. That’s why he’s been linked to no fewer than nine contending teams who are looking for starting pitching.

The A’s sit in a position of strength here. They don’t have to deal Gray right now, and indications from within the organization are that they don’t feel a pressing need to deal him before Monday if they don’t get swept off their feet by an offer. They can retain him, and he’ll still hold great value as an offseason trade chip with those two years of team control.

MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi reported Tuesday morning that the Yankees and Nationals — who have already struck a deal with Oakland to get relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson this month — are two teams in particular to watch in the hunt for Gray.

Morosi also reported that the A’s are targeting young outfielders as the anchor of any deal. That makes all the sense in the world given their organizational needs, particularly in center. It’s also in line with what I’ve heard that the A’s would prioritize getting position players in return since they worked so hard over the past couple of years to acquire and draft young starting pitching (though it stands to reason a deal for Gray would be a multi-player package that could also include pitching prospects as well).

Morosi specifically mentions Yankees Single-A center fielder Estevan Florial as a player the A’s like. He’s just 19 and at least a couple years away from the majors. But Billy Beane, the head of Oakland’s baseball operations, said after making the Doolittle/Madson trade that the emphasis moving forward would be on acquiring high-end talent, not necessarily prospects close to being major league-ready.

Other potential Gray suitors have elite outfield prospects in their system: The Astros boast Kyle Tucker, the Nats have Victor Robles and the Mariners have Kyle Lewis, though it’s doubtful whether Seattle has enough elsewhere in its farm system to assemble a package to land Gray.

Just a hunch, but keep an eye on the Dodgers as a team that could enter the Sonny Sweepstakes in light of Clayton Kershaw’s lower back injury. There’s strong ties between the Oakland and Los Angeles front offices, and the teams struck a deadline deal last summer that sent Rich Hill and Josh Reddick to the Dodgers. They have one of the majors’ top outfield prospects in Alex Verdugo, who’s currently at Triple-A.

Though much mystery remains, an eventual trade of Gray is inevitable. The A’s have a solid base of young pitching depth, both in the majors and coming up through the system. And Gray’s rebound from a poor 2016, combined with his favorable contract status, makes him too tantalizing a trade chip for the A’s not to make the move.

The key question is not “if” but “when.”