OAKLAND –- The second inning could have been the A’s undoing Thursday night.
Sonny Gray helped ensure that wasn’t the case.
The talk coming out of Oakland’s 4-1 win over Toronto might center on a controversial sequence in the second that led to Toronto taking an early lead and prompted A’s manager Bob Melvin to play the game under protest.
It’s a moot point after the A’s won, which means the biggest takeaway from Oakland’s perspective should be Gray, who resembled the form that made him one of the majors’ best starters in April and May.
That made for a needed pick-me-up victory for him and his teammates, who were dragging after getting swept by the Detroit Tigers to end an eight-game road trip.
“It’s great to come back home,” Gray said. “We all knew in here we were back at home and needed to play well after the last three games.”
The A’s got the outing they needed from Gray, who gave up just one run over seven innings. They squeezed out enough offense against knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (6-8), who silenced them in a 5-1 Jays victory at the Rogers Center back on May 24. And they got some crowd-pleasing defensive work that made for an overall joyous night for an audience of 32,913 on fireworks night.
They also rendered meaningless an odd play in the top of the second.
With the bases loaded and one out, A’s first baseman Nate Freiman fielded a grounder and appeared to tag Blue Jays runner Munenori Kawasaki between first and second base. But first base umpire Vic Carapazza signaled safe on the play, and Freiman threw to catcher Stephen Vogt for what should have been a force play at home.
Toronto manager John Gibbons asked for a replay review, and it was ruled that Kawasaki was indeed tagged out, therefore the “force” was off at home and Edwin Encarnacion scored because Vogt did not tag him.
But how should Vogt have known to tag the runner when he saw the “safe” call and assumed he had a force at the plate? Melvin decided to protest. And as play was delayed more than five minutes for the whole episode, Gray remained focused, knowing he still had a runner on third base with two outs.
He ended the rally on Josh Thole’s groundout to short, and the A’s trailed just 1-0.
“It kinda stinks when (that kind of play) does go against you, but I knew there that the inning had the potential to escalate very quickly,” Gray said. “It was very important to just get that guy out and move on.”
Gray (8-3) came in with a 5.50 ERA over his previous six starts. But he rediscovered his 12-to-6 curve ball against Toronto, a pitch that consistently dove into the dirt and one that Blue Jays hitters couldn’t lay off. That helped offset fastball command that Melvin described as “spotty.” Gray threw just 55 of his 95 pitches for strikes.
“The idea is to really get (the curve) going again,” Gray said. “The last five or six starts, it was OK, but it hasn’t been a big factor. So we did some things -- a little different, a tweak. I was able to find that again.”
Sean Doolittle buzzed through a 1-2-3 ninth to earn his 12th save after coughing up ninth-inning leads in his previous two outings.
Overall, it was an encouraging night for the A’s, who not only got back in the win column but took the spotlight off the convoluted second-inning play that had many searching for the rule book.
“It worked out in the end,” Melvin said.
That was the simplest way he could sum up this one.