When the Oakland A's selected Sonny Gray in the first round of the 2011 draft, there were many comparisons to a former A's ace, right-hander Tim Hudson. Like Hudson, Gray is a diminutive right-hander with a plus sinker and a bulldog mentality on the mound. And, like Hudson, Gray put his team into the post-season with a brilliant Game 162 performance over the Texas Rangers in his second season in the big leagues.
Gray took the mound knowing that the A's needed a win over the Rangers -- the best team in baseball over the last two weeks of the season -- to avoid a nightmare scenario of having to travel to Seattle for a play-in Game 163. That game, had it taken place, would have been a day game and would have forced the A's to use Jon Lester before any possible Wild Card.
Instead, Gray came through with a performance for the ages. The A's gave Gray a two-run cushion in the second inning and the Vanderbilt alum took it from there. Gray threw his second complete game shutout of his career, needing just 103 pitches to shut-down the Rangers. He faced a first-and-third, no-out situation in the bottom of the fifth and got a strike-out and a double-play off the bat of former teammate Adam Rosales to keep the Rangers off the board. That was the closest Texas would come to scoring.
Gray allowed just six hits. He struck-out five, walked none and hit a batter. He induced two double-plays.
The A's needed to score early to take off some of the pressure and they did just that. Brandon Moss doubled to lead-off the second and Josh Reddick quickly cashed in on that scoring opportunity, tripling Moss home. After Jed Lowrie popped out, Stephen Vogt singled Reddick home and the A's were in business with a 2-0 lead.
Oakland's offense was quiet for most of the rest of the game until they got a little help in the top of the ninth. Adrian Beltre made a throwing error on Alberto Callaspo's grounder, allowing Callaspo to reach second base. Pinch-hitter Jonny Gomes was walked intentionally with Callaspo on second and one out, bringing up Reddick. Reddick reached, loading the bases for Lowrie with one-out. The A's have struggled in bases-loaded situations, but Lowrie came through with a two-run single past second baseman Rougned Odor, who broke the other way. That gave Gray a little breathing room going into the bottom of the ninth.
Gray wouldn't need it. He made quick work of Elvis Andrus and Odor before the incomparable Beltre reached on a single to center. That single cost Gray a "Maddux" but nothing more, as he quickly retired Jake Smolinski to clinch the A's third playoff appearance in three years.
After their celebration, the A's will head to Kansas City for a much-needed day off before taking on the Royals at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday at 5pm Pacific.