Rewind: Gray keeps it together, A's win streak reaches six

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Rewind: Gray keeps it together, A's win streak reaches six

TORONTO – Friday’s game began as an eagerly anticipated matchup of Sonny Gray vs. former A’s teammate Josh Donaldson.

The most important battle wound up being Sonny Gray vs. the sixth-inning adversity that threatened to unravel all that had gone so good for the A’s up to that point.

Gray faced a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the sixth, with the heart of the Blue Jays’ dangerous batting order due up and a Rogers Center crowd waiting to burst into delirium. Instead, Gray held the damage to one run, order was restored, and the A’s steered their way to an 8-5 victory that ran their winning streak to six games, their longest since a six-gamer from July 3-8, 2014.

“The key to the game was probably that sixth inning,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said.

[RECAP: Instant Replay: A's bats swing away, escape Blue Jays in win]

The fact of the matter is it’s not quite as easy as the A’s are making it look right now. The hits are coming in bunches, and the confidence flowing through the batting order, one through nine, can nearly be felt through your flat-screen TV.

But it takes just one or two ill-advised pitches to completely shift the complexion of a game. Particularly against an offense as dangerous as Toronto’s, and particularly with Donaldson as the focal point of it. The former A’s star said with sincerity before the game that he’ll always cherish his years in green and gold.

“Ten years from now, I’ll still remember that time, “ he said. “It was pretty special for me.”

But the reigning American League MVP also admitted there’s a little extra kick of adrenaline facing the A’s, especially with their ace on the mound.

Gray struck him out in the first, as Donaldson’s bat went flying out toward shortstop when he swung through a curve. He singled in the fourth and drew a walk that loaded the bases in the sixth with no outs. Suddenly, Gray found himself falling behind in counts. The A’s led 6-1, but with Jose Bautista batting, the Jays were one swing away from getting right back in the game.

Instead, Gray buckled down. He retired Bautista on a sacrifice fly that let steam out of the rally. Cleanup man Edwin Encarnacion flied out to center, and after Justin Smoak walked to load the bases again, Gray got Josh Thole on a groundout and the A’s returned to the dugout still leading 6-2.

[WATCH: Inside Pitch: Gray vs Donaldson one of best matchups in MLB]

“I dug myself in a hole and kind of was able to dig myself out of it,” Gray said.

Similar to the New York Yankees, whom the A’s just swept, the Blue Jays are scuffling offensively more than their star-studded lineup would suggest they should. Compounding matters for Toronto was Friday’s news of first baseman Chris Colabello’s 80-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

But Toronto battled back Friday, pulling to within 6-5 before the resurgent Khris Davis delivered a two-out, two-run double for the A’s to add some important insurance runs. “There’s never a comfy lead against that offense,” Davis said. “But scoring after they score is kind of deflating (for the opponent).”

And there to close it out in the ninth for the A’s, once again, was Ryan Madson. His seven saves are tied with the Royals’ Wade Davis for most in the American League, but Melvin still isn’t anointing Madson his official closer.

Matchups dictate who he goes with, Melvin said, adding that he was planning to use Doolittle for the ninth until Ryan Dull found trouble in the eighth and Melvin instead called on Doolittle then (the lefty allowed a walk and Kevin Pillar’s two-run single to make it a 6-5 game at that time).

Job titles — or lack thereof — hardly matter to the A’s right now. Their 7-0 road start is third-best in Oakland history behind the 11-0 start of the 1981 club and an 8-0 run by the 1990 squad.

They’re beating opponents with grand gestures — like Chris Coghlan’s three-run homer Friday. They’re also doing it with subtle victories within the game, as Gray demonstrated in a sixth inning that could have taken an ugly turn but didn’t.

Healy exits early, Blackburn suffers first loss with A's

Healy exits early, Blackburn suffers first loss with A's

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Michael Conforto hit a pair of two-run homers and Jerry Blevins rescued the Mets' bullpen with a five-out save as New York held off the Oakland Athletics 7-5 on Friday night for its third straight victory.

T.J. Rivera put the Mets ahead in the sixth inning with a two-run single that turned into a Little League home run. Rivera came all the way around to score on the play after third baseman Matt Chapman, trying to get Rivera at second, threw the ball away into right field for a costly error that made it 5-3.

Moments earlier, New York loaded the bases when Lucas Duda's bad-hop infield single struck first baseman Ryon Healy near the temple. Healy left the game and walked off under his own power with a swollen bruise next to his left eye.

Conforto's second homer made it 7-3 in the seventh. Oakland rallied for two in the eighth, but Blevins replaced closer Addison Reed with the bases loaded and got five straight outs against his former team for his fifth major league save and first this season.

Normally a lefty specialist, Blevins recorded five outs in a game for the first time since 2014 with Washington. He retired All-Star slugger Yonder Alonso on a foul popup and struck out Khris Davis to escape the eighth-inning jam.

"We just tried to find some matchups that worked," Mets manager Terry Collins said.

Yoenis Cespedes had three hits after raising eyebrows when he told the San Francisco Chronicle before the game that he wants to play the final season of his career in Oakland, his first big league team.

Cespedes, who signed a $110 million, four-year contract in the offseason to remain with the Mets, also said A's manager Bob Melvin is his favorite skipper and he doesn't think there's a better one.

"Bob's a great manager. I don't blame him," Collins said after the game. "This is the first I've heard of it."

After the game, Cespedes clarified his comments while speaking with reporters through a translator and said he meant no disrespect toward Collins or the Mets.

Yoenis Cespedes: 'I’m going to play the last year of my career with Oakland'

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AP

Yoenis Cespedes: 'I’m going to play the last year of my career with Oakland'

After signing a four-year, $36 million deal with the A's before the 2012 season, Yoenis Cespedes' time in Oakland came to an end halfway through his third season.

The current Mets star certainly hasn't forgetten his time in Oakland, sharing his desire to end his career back where he started it to the San Francisco Chronicle

“I wish that happens,” Cespedes said on Friday with the A's taking on his Mets in New York. “I told (Jerry) Blevins, ‘I don’t know how many years I’m going to play, but I’m going to play the last year of my career with Oakland.’ I don’t know if that’s possible or not, but that’s my goal.”

Cespedes, who has also played in Boston and Detroit, loved his time in Oakland. 

“I still love the A’s, they were the first team to give me an opportunity to play in the big leagues," Cespedes said. “I love Oakland all the time.”

Another key reason for Cespedes' hope to return to the A's one day is how much he enjoyed playing for manager Bob Melvin. 

“I tell my guys here all the time that he’s the best manager for me so far,” Cespedes said. “I don’t think there’s a better manager than Melvin.”

Cespedes hit .262 with 66 home runs in his time with the A's. Over his six-year career, the slugging outfielder owns a career .272 batting average with 146 homers.