The ALDS Game 2 narrative between the Tigers and Athletics involved the experienced ace in Justin Verlander and the rookie in Sonny Gray. Verlander, with over 70 post-season innings under his belt, would be calm, cool, and collected with all the TV cameras pointed in his direction. Gray, who spent most of the year with Triple-A Sacramento, would be in the pressure cooker for the first time in his career, certainly a burden for a 23-year-old.
Gray flipped that narrative on its back with eight stellar innings of work against the American League’s #2 offense, averaging just under five runs per game during the regular season. He was rarely in trouble, and when he was, he nearly perfectly executed his pitches — a mid-90’s fastball and a dazzling curve — to escape unharmed. The right-hander held the Tigers to four hits, all singles while walking two and striking out nine, matching the seasoned Verlander pitch-for-pitch in the most important game of his career.
The pitch of the game for Gray came in the bottom of the eighth. Don Kelly led off the inning with an infield single, then moved to second base on a ground out by Jose Iglesias. With the winning run in scoring position and Austin Jackson (who hit .300 last year) at the plate, Gray fed him a steady diet of curve balls. Jackson saw six of them consecutively, falling behind 0-2, working it back to 3-2, and ultimately striking out looking. Torii Hunter then popped up to end the eighth inning, Gray’s final frame before Athletics manager Bob Melvin turned to his bullpen.
The Athletics needed Gray to be exactly this good because Verlander was on point from the start. Verlander did not allow a base runner until the fifth inning after recording two outs. Like Gray, Verlander did not surrender an extra-base hit. He allowed four hits, walked one, and struck out 11 batters in seven innings of outstanding pitching.
Had Gray relented even once — and no one would have blamed him if he did — the Athletics would have been feeling the pressure, just like they did from the start of Game 1 against Max Scherzer. And they might not have had the chance to walk off in the bottom of the ninth, the way they did thanks to Stephen Vogt’s bases loaded, no out, walk-off RBI single against Rick Porcello. Thanks to Gray, the Athletics are ecstatic as they board their plane en route to Detroit for Game 3 on Monday.