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


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.

A's lineup: Healy moves into three spot, LaMarre gets first start

A's lineup: Healy moves into three spot, LaMarre gets first start

Bob Melvin has issued his lineup as the A's try to snap a five-game losing streak in Game 2 of a series against the Astros.

Oakland A's (10-13)

1. Jaff Decker (L) RF
2. Jed Lowrie (S) 2B
3. Ryon Healy (R) DH
4. Khris Davis (R) LF
5. Yonder Alonso (L) 1B
6. Trevor Plouffe (R) 3B
7. Stephen Vogt (L) C
8. Chad Pinder (R) SS
9. Ryan LaMarre (R) CF
Andrew Triggs -- RHP 

Houston Astros (15-8)

1. George Springer (R) CF
2. Josh Reddick (L) RF
3. Jose Altuve (R) 2B
4. Carlos Correa (R) SS
5. Carlos Beltran (S) LF
6. Yuli Gurriel (R) 1B
7. Brian McCann (L) C
8. Evan Gattis (R) DH
9. Alex Bregman (R) 3B
Joe Musgrove -- RHP

Reddick gets best of old roommate Healy, and the A's

Reddick gets best of old roommate Healy, and the A's

HOUSTON — Enduring a five-game losing streak is tough enough on its own.

Watching a former teammate play a part in prolonging the misery is worse.

Josh Reddick wasn’t the most dominant player on the field Friday for the Astros, but he picked his spots to make his presence felt, and that added a little salt to the wound for the A’s in a 9-4 defeat that was their fifth in a row. They’ve now lost 10 straight times to Houston.

Reddick was mad at himself after not making the play on Ryon Healy’s double in the sixth inning. He got another chance in the eighth and robbed his former roommate with a terrific catch as he slammed into the wall to end the inning. That stranded two runners and preserved what was a 7-4 lead at the time.

“Any time you’re playing against your former team you wanna do well against them. Beating them makes it a little bit sweeter,” Reddick said. “But when you can make a catch against a guy you became pretty good buddies with in a tight situation, it adds more to that.”

After Healy got his first big league call-up last July, and before the A’s traded Reddick to the Dodgers on Aug. 1, Reddick invited the rookie to move into his house as he cut his teeth in the bigs.

“I’m going to be giving Ryon a lot of crap, I guess you could say,” Reddick said afterward. “He gave me a little signal and finger wave and shook his head on the (double). I got him back and a little bit of payback.”

Reddick, who signed a four-year $52 million free agent deal with Houston in the offseason, was a pest to the A’s in more unconventional ways too. Twice he reached base on catcher’s interference calls when his bat hit the mitt of Stephen Vogt, another of Reddick’s closest friends on the A’s. It happened in the bottom of the first and contributed to the Astros’ three-run rally that tied the game off Jharel Cotton after the A’s had grabbed a 3-0 lead on Khris Davis’ three-run homer.

Vogt talked about both interference plays with mild disgust, more upset with the situation itself than Reddick personally.

“Typically I’m pretty far back behind the batter," Vogt said. “Reddick, I guess, has a pretty long swing when he’s trying to go the other way. … It’s just one of those freak things that obviously I’m not real thrilled about. It’s just frustrating. You don’t see it very often. It’s not really how you swing the bat typically, but he does a good job going the other way, and it’s on me. I’ve gotta make sure I’m far enough back and not reaching for the ball.”

As for Reddick’s important catch in the eighth, Vogt said:

“It’s hard to see him in a different uniform, and I know he loved it here as well. It’s hard to see him playing against us 19 times. To see him making catches like that, it’s not very much fun when he’s not wearing green.”

However, the A’s have more pressing issues than getting stung by old friends. They’ve struck out 57 times over the past five games, and with each day that passes, it’s increasingly clear how much they miss the speed and playmaking ability of center fielder Rajai Davis, as well as the offensive production of shortstop Marcus Semien. Both are on the disabled list, Davis for the short term with a strained hamstring and Semien likely for a couple of months due to wrist surgery.

Cotton wasn’t sharp, allowing a career-high 10 hits and failing to protect two early leads he was given. Those are the growing pains that will come for a rookie pitcher. What the A’s can’t afford are three-error nights like they had Friday and continuing to whiff at their current rate.

“When we went through our winning streak, we played real clean games, and now we’re a little shoddy,” manager Bob Melvin said. “There’s a psychological play that goes with that. When you’re not making plays and giving extra outs, it makes it tougher on pitchers and tougher mentally.”