Much has been made about Oakland Athletics’ game two starting pitcher, Sonny Gray. MLB.com’s Lyle Spencer even went as far as proclaiming that “a star was born in a classic October shootout.” Many baseball prospects publications praised his fastball, his breaking ball, and his top-of-the-rotation potential. Pitted against the 2011 American League Cy Young and MVP Award winner, Justin Verlander, Gray pitched intelligently and with very little fear.
Gray would be tested early on against MVP candidate, Miguel Cabrera. With two outs and bases empty in the first inning, Cabrera ripped a single to left field, welcoming the 23 year-old to postseason baseball. Gray would get out of the inning unscathed. He faced a jam in the second inning with the bottom half of the order, but once again pitched his way out of the inning with no harm done.
The quintessential inning for Gray, where his poise was on full display, came in the top of the third facing the top of the order for the second time in the game. He struck out Austin Jackson (who would go on to strike out four times), struck out Torii Hunter who appeared to be trying to intimidate the young pitcher during his at bat. The stage was now set for a second encounter with Cabrera as Hunter and the rest of the Detroit Tigers’ bench began talking among each other. The crowd of 48,292 began to yell at the top of their collective lungs. It was only the third, but the scene resembled the ninth. The at bat ended with Cabrera, striking out swinging after a very spirited confrontation with the rookie.
It was relatively smooth sailing afterwards as Gray would pitch eight strong innings, striking out nine, walking two, while only scattering four hits. He was the epitome of a ground ball pitcher as his Ground Ball Percentage (GB%) was a very effective 64.7%. He simply didn’t give the Tigers much to work with.
Conversely, Verlander was the epitome of an effective fly ball pitcher as his Fly Ball Percentage (FB%) was at a high 53.8%. An argument could be made that Verlander pitched a better game than Gray, finishing the night with 11 strikeouts, one walk, and only allowing four hits on seven innings of action.
Verlander’s memorable performance came on the heels amidst controversy in the SABR world, led most noticeably by Brian Kenny as he (and others) suggested that Verlander should come out of the Tigers’ bullpen in a similar fashion that Tim Lincecum was being used by the San Francisco Giants, en route to a World Series win last season. Verlander coming back down to Earth this year has been well-documented this season. But at least for one night, Verlander was able to silence critics.
While the starters from both teams were of high quality and pedigree, the game would be decided in the bottom of the ninth by a catcher that only started in 40 games behind the plate. A former 12th round pick in the 2007 draft, 28 year-old Stephen Vogt came to bat with the bases loaded and nobody out against a first round pick in the same draft class, Rick Porcelllo. Vogt lined a single to left, scoring Yoenis Cespedes and winning the game for Oakland, tying a very exciting series at one game a piece.
Game 3 ALDS – Oakland @ Detroit – 1:00 PM EST – TBS