OAKLAND — The Athletics showed what they had displayed to the American League West all season — the kids can play.
Rookies Sonny Gray and Stephen Vogt made the American League Division Series look more like an ordinary day in the Pacific Coast League with the way they performed under pressure Saturday night.
Gray, the right-handed who was the Athletics’ first-round draft pick in 2011 from Vanderbilt, pitched eight shutout innings, allowing four hits and striking out nine with Vogt behind the plate. Gray matched Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander pitch for pitch.
“Sonny did a heck of a job,” Verlander said. “He was able to use his angst and his energy for positive. He handled himself like a veteran. He was real impressive.”
Vogt then delivered an RBI single with the bases loaded and none out in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Athletics a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers at O.co Coliseum in Game 2 of their ALDS. The Athletics evened the series at 1-1.
The battery mates played a majority of the season off with the Athletics’ Triple-A Sacramento farm club in the PCL.
The series shifts to Detroit Monday afternoon for Game 3 with Jarrod Parker (12-8, 3.97 in the regular season) pitching for the Athletics against Anibal Sanchez (14-8, 2.57). Parker is a ripening 24-year-old who has 275 strikeouts in 384 innings. He also served up 25 home runs in 32 starts this season.
“He’s another guy with good stuff,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “He commands the strike zone pretty good. At least we’ve seen him before.”
Gray had pitched in just 12 regular-season games, 10 of which were starts, and was 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA. He stymied the Tigers’ powerful lineup.
“He was real aggressive with electric stuff. He didn’t back off at all,” Leyland said. “He was very impressive. He came right at us.”
Vogt hit .252 with four home runs in 47 regular-season games and struck out in each of his three at-bats against Verlander on Saturday night. However, he drove in the game-winning run with his single off Rick Porcello.
“That’s what you dream of,” Vogt said. “I was just looking for something out over the plate, stay in the middle of the field. Just so fortunate to come through.
Parker lost his only start against the Tigers this season, getting shelled for eight runs in 3 1/3 innings. Sanchez was 1-0 with a 3.75 ERA two starts against the Athletics.
The Tigers’ ability to score runs is dependent upon having MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera healthy. He’s 2 for 8 with one RBI in the series.
Leyland said Cabrera isn’t 100 percent. The All-Star third baseman battled a groin and abdominal injury since August, but Leyland said he will be in the lineup Monday.
Melvin said the Athletics are approaching him with the same high level of caution.
“I thought he moved around better (Saturday),” Melvin said. “When he got the pop up by third base, he was moving better than he was (Friday). I’m not going to break down his swing. The guy is dangerous regardless, and no matter if he has his legs under him or not, he hits the ball hard up the middle as he has both games. And you’re always thinking about where he is in the lineup and potentially a walk waiting to happen.”