Bay Area Baseball

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October 4, 2013
Gray keeping his cool before Game 2 against Tigers, Verlander

OAKLAND -- A's right-hander Game 2 starter Sonny Gray met the media this afternoon and displayed some of the quiet confidence the A's have come to expect from the 23-year-old. Asked about facing the Detroit Tigers' lineup -- the middle of which, with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, is among baseball's most daunting -- Gray said:

"I think it's going to be not so much them, but me, being able to harness the energy and the adrenaline that I'm sure is going to be flowing and not trying to do too much. Not try to pitch to their weaknesses, just go with my strengths, go with what's got me here and what's got us here as a team. I think if I'm able to do that, then it will probably end up going more our way."

So if there was any question of whether Gray would be overwhelmed by the moment in his first playoff start -- and 11th major-league start overall -- it doesn't sound like that's the case. Incidentally, Gray was asked what the biggest start of his baseball-playing life has been prior to his getting the nod in Game 2.

"Probably in the College World Series," Gray said.

Gray started the opening game of the CWS in 2011 for Vanderbilt, in the Commodores' 7-3 win over North Carolina.

"It was an exciting day," Gray said. "And I'm sure tomorrow is going to be exciting."

Gray's start becomes all the more important if the A's lose tonight. They'll be dealing with Justin Verlander in Game 2, who last year allowed one run in 16 innings against them in the ALDS.

"I think he'll do well," Melvin said. "We wouldn't have put him in that spot if we didn't think so.

"He's been in some high-profile places and pitched in some high-profile games. You insulate within your preparation and go out there and pitch whether you're an emotional guy or not, which he can be, and I think that actually helps him."

As if to illustrate his youth, Gray said today he remembers watching Verlander pitch on TV from a restaurant while on a college baseball road trip. He also said he exchanged texts Thursday with Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole, a fellow rookie, whom Gray got to know when they were both in college. Cole, who went to UCLA, started this morning in against the St. Louis Cardinals and allowed one run in six innings in the Pirates' win.

"He kind of shot me a text and was like, man, this is weird, huh?" Gray said. "We're both throwing in the playoffs and a year and a half ago we were facing each other in college. I was like, yeah, it's weird.

"It goes to show you that you take it as another game and take it to doing what you've always done, just like he did today. You don't have to be overwhelmed by the stage."

Verlander also talked with reporters and discussed what was a down season for him. The 2011 Cy Young and MVP winner went 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA, while the Tigers lost nine of his final 10 starts.

Verlander candidly said he fought mechanical issues for most of the season, but felt that in his final few starts he was finally feeling comfortable and able to focus more on pitch execution than his delivery.

"We aren't robots, things aren't always perfect, and this is a season that opened my eyes to that fact," Verlander said. "The last couple years came pretty easy to me -- right from spring training, from the jump start, it was like, OK, my pitches are good, go from here. And this year it wasn't like that.

"It was a matter of getting myself to where I need to be. It was a year-long battle, I'm not going to lie. This is something I worked on from early in the season until a couple weeks ago, and I felt like the last couple of starts were where I needed to be."

Last year, Verlander allowed a leadoff home run to Coco Crisp in Game 1 of the ALDS, then didn't allow another run over 16 innings while striking out 22 A's hitters. He was unquestionably the ace of the Tigers' rotation, the reason he got Game 1 and was tabbed again for the decisive Game 5, when he threw a complete-game shutout.

Again, that's not the case this year. Scherzer received the Game 1 start -- though manager Jim Leyland did say Thursday that Verlander could ostensibly pitch a potential Game 5 on normal rest if the Tigers chose to go that route -- with Verlander tabbed for Game 2. Verlander did not take issue with the decision.

"Max without a doubt is the best pitcher in the American League (this year)," Verlander said. "And he absolutely earned this."

-- Matt Kawahara

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About Bay Area Baseball

Matt KawaharaMatt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee’s sports staff in fall 2011.
Email: mkawahara@sacbee.com.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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