Bay Area Baseball

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October 5, 2013
Tigers' Verlander, Leyland come away impressed by Gray

OAKLAND -- As Sonny Gray sat before the cameras in the Coliseum interview room late Saturday night, taking questions from media following the pitching performance of his young career, Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander stood in the back of the room, waiting for his turn at the podium.

When Gray finished and left the podium, his path back to the A's clubhouse took him right past Verlander. Gray had just come from the trainer's room and still wore his gold A's jersey with a large ice pack wrapped around his right arm. Verlander had showered and dressed in well-pressed gray suit. As they passed each other, Verlander a good six inches taller than the 23-year-old rookie, Verlander reached out and shook Gray's hand, giving him a pat on the back with his left.

"I just told him he did a good job," Verlander said.

Gray pitched the game of his life Saturday night, and because of it -- and Stephen Vogt's walk-off single in the ninth -- the A's are headed to Detroit in a series that's tied at 1-1 in spite of the fact they've scored three runs in two games, been held scoreless in 16 of their 18 offensive innings and struck out 29 times.

The immediate reaction to Gray's start is in the game story, which can be found here. But there was plenty afterward that didn't make it in, including that moment with Verlander and the post-game comments of Verlander and Tigers manager Jim Leyland regarding the rookie's eight shutout innings against a Detroit lineup that scored the second-most runs in baseball during the regular season.

"He was real aggressive with electric stuff," Leyland said. "He didn't back off at all. He was very impressive. He came right at us. That's what the report said, they said he would go to his curveball when he got in trouble, which he did. But I was impressed with his fastball as well, and he located it very well, too."

Verlander has been there. He was 23 years old himself when he made his first postseason start -- in Game 2 of the 2006 ALDS, seven years ago to the day. It came at Yankee Stadium in a game the Tigers won 4-3. Verlander allowed three runs in 5 1/3 innings.

"Sonny did one heck of a job," Verlander said. "He was able to use his angst and energy for a positive and a lot of young guys it works against them. That's why veterans usually seem to do better in postseason pressure. He handled himself like a veteran and it was impressive."

Gray said after the game he didn't let himself think about the fact that he was trading zeroes with Verlander, the 2011 Cy Young winner and MVP, because he was too focused on executing against the Tigers' dangerous lineup. Verlander, meanwhile, allowed that he did take note of how Gray was pitching.

"I go up in the locker room and get out of the atmosphere and try to refocus," Verlander said. "So obviously I see the TV footage and his stuff is really, really good. He was executing and throwing strikes and getting guys to chase his curveball when he wanted.

"So that was a big indicator to me that it was going to be a tough night for our guys. And at that point, you hope to scratch across a run."

The Tigers' best chance came in the fifth inning, with runners on first and third and one out. Gray fell behind Austin Jackson, 3-0, but worked the count back full and struck Jackson out swinging on a fastball away. Catcher Stephen Vogt then got off a quick throw to second to nab Jose Iglesias trying to steal to end the inning.

Otherwise, the Tigers didn't get a runner past second base. While the A's offense has had its share of problems against Verlander and Max Scherzer, the Detroit lineup hasn't been its usual prolific self, either. The Tigers won Game 1 on the strength of a three-run first inning against Bartolo Colon. They are scoreless over the last 17.

"We're not swinging the bats maybe the way we're capable," Leyland said. "But you can't take anything away from that performance tonight. (Gray) was tremendous. We'll go home and hopefully get the bats going a little bit."

Leyland pointed out, too, that Gray's outing managed to overshadow that of Verlander, who was just as good for seven innings. Verlander hasn't allowed a run in his last 22 postseason innings against the A's, which is the longest playoff scoreless streak for any starter against the A's since Christy Mathewson threw 28 shutout innings in a row against the Philadelphia Athletics between 1905 and 1911.

"This is postseason pitching," Leyland said in summation Saturday night. "That's what you saw tonight at its best."

-- 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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