ARLINGTON, Texas – Sonny Gray was holding the Rangers in check Saturday. Just as important, he was buying time for his teammates.
The A’s right-hander eventually was rewarded in a 5-1 victory over Texas, though it was easy to lose sight of his stellar work given how events played out at Globe Life Park.
Oakland struck for four home runs over a six-batter span, a stunning sequence that assured it would even this three-game series going into Sunday’s finale. First John Jaso and Yoenis Cespedes went back-to-back in the sixth off Texas starter Nick Tepesch. Then Josh Donaldson and Josh Reddick added solo shots in the seventh, and the A’s – now 13-8 in July -- were on their way to clinching their 14th consecutive winning month.
[Instant Replay: A's go homer happy, beat Rangers 5-1]
That’s a new Oakland record for most winning months in a row. And if that factoid doesn’t initially knock your socks off, understand that over the last 36 years, the only other American League team to post more than 13 straight winning months was the New York Yankees, who notched 20 in a row from Septemer 1996 to April 2000.
The Yanks happened to win three World Series during that span.
The A’s haven’t endured a losing month since going 11-16 in May 2012, and in Saturday’s victory, they displayed a major characteristic that’s led to that sustained excellence – the ability to bunch hits together. In this case, homers.
“It takes a little momentum to get going,” Jaso said. “It looked like (Tepesch) was just gonna roll through nine innings. But then you get one hit, or one guy on base, one good swing, and you get momentum shifting back in your direction.”
The A’s looked dumbfounded with a bat in their hands over the first five innings. Thanks to Gray, they faced just a 1-0 deficit.
“You tip your cap to Sonny for keeping us in the game as long as he did,” Reddick said.
Gray threw 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball, becoming one of just four A.L. pitchers to reach the 12-win mark so far (the others are Detroit’s Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer and the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka).
He wasn’t his sharpest, as he issued four walks, but in a way that made his night more impressive. Even without his best stuff, Gray got the job done, with help from two ground-ball double plays.
The right-hander claimed A.L. Pitcher of the Month honors in April, and he may just walk away with July’s award as well. In five starts this month, Gray is 5-0 with a 1.03 ERA.
“His fastball moves all over the place,” manager Bob Melvin said. “Sometimes he doesn’t know what it does. It’ll cut, it’ll sink. And it’s tough to even get a good swing on it at times when you’re in fastball counts. He can throw a breaking ball at different speeds any time he wants and he mixes in the changeup.
“On top of that, he’s quite the competitor. He really finds another level when he gets guys on base.”
Gray coaxed some ridiculously awkward swings from Texas hitters with his curve, which is not unusual. What was different -- according to Jaso, who caught him Saturday – was the number of change-ups that Gray threw. It’s become a solid third pitch for him this season, but on Saturday, Jaso estimated he threw as many change-ups as curves, which is definitely unusual.
“His changeup’s come a long way. It’s been a really good equalizer for him,” Jaso said. “You get some long swings going and you slow down the hitters’ eyes. That way his fastball jumps at ‘em more.”
Gray didn’t get a great look at Jaso’s go-ahead two-run homer off Tepesch in the sixth, but when he heard his teammates burst out in celebration, he knew something good happened. Then Cespedes followed with an opposite-field blast, and the A’s were off.
“I hit one in the first row,” Jaso said, “and then Cespedes hit one a few rows further than mine, in the same spot. Once again.”
Four homers and a vintage night on the mound from Gray. Sounds like a formula that will lead to a lot of winning months.
Note: Jaso left the game before the bottom of the eighth with what Melvin labeled “irritation” in his left knee. Jaso said it happened while crouching down to catch warm-ups before that inning and that it was very minor. He expects to be available Sunday night.