OAKLAND – The A’s saved most of the fireworks for after their game against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday night, when fans were treated to a pyrotechnics show.
Such is the luxury when rookie right-hander Sonny Gray is on his game, mixing up his pitches, hitting his spots and generally having his way with hitters.
Hence, the only offense the A’s needed came on a Coco Crisp RBI single and solo home run as the A’s beat the Rays for the second straight night, this time 2-1 in front of a sellout crowd of 35,067 at the Coliseum.
Gray allowed five hits and one walk over 6 2/3 innings, while striking out seven. That qualifies as quite a turnaround from his previous start, when he allowed eight hits, two walks and six runs in half as many innings pitched.
“He was great again,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of Gray, who improved to 2-2 and lowered his ERA to 2.57. “In a game like that, you had the feeling pretty early on that both guys were going to pitch pretty well and runs might be hard to come by.”
The A’s moved 1 ½ games ahead of the Rays for the first wild-card spot. They also remained two games behind the Texas Rangers in the American League West.
Gray was making only his fifth major-league start Saturday night, but he displayed the composure of a seasoned veteran.
Such makeup isn’t uncommon among A’s pitchers, Crisp said. In fact, he expects the kind of maturity Gray shows every time he pitches.
“Oakland does a good job of grooming their young guys, getting them in the right mind-set to come up here,” Crisp said. “Since I’ve been here, everybody who has come up has had a fantastic outlook on how to play the game. … He’s just another product of a good farm system.”
Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt is a product of the Rays, having been selected in the 12th round of the 2007 draft. He joined the A’s earlier this season.
On Saturday, Vogt started against his former team and delivered a lead-off triple in the sixth. Crisp singled home Vogt one batter later for the game’s first run.
“The Vogt triple felt like a three-run homer at the time … ,” Melvin said. “Vogt had a nice night.”
Vogt starting likely had far more to do with his familiarity with Gray than it did with Melvin hoping to tap into Vogt’s eagerness to stick it to his old team.
Vogt caught Gray numerous times at Triple-A Sacramento. Saturday marked their first time as battery mates in the majors.
“It’s nice to contribute to a win,” Vogt said. “This was huge for me personally.”
Gray said he enjoyed seeing Vogt play such a critical role in the A’s victory. Gray did his part, thanks to a mastery of four pitches, primarily his fastball.
“The big thing was fastball command, keeping it down,” Gray said. “That’s something I struggled with last start.”
Against the Rays, Gray struck out five of the first six batters he faced. His sixth strikeout ended a two-on, two-out threat in the fourth.
With Rays starter Alex Cobb matching Gray through the first five innings, it became apparent that it wasn’t going to take much offense to turn a scoreless game into a hard-fought victory.
“We got just enough,” Melvin said.
— The A’s send A.J. Griffin to the mound Sunday as they go for a sweep of the Rays. The Rays swept the A’s at home earlier this season in the teams’ only other series.
— Grant Balfour closed out the game for his 35th save of the season, and second in two games, despite allowing a run. He pitched in his third straight game. Therefore, he won’t be used Sunday, Melvin said.
— Gray boosted his record to 2-0 at home. He has allowed only two runs in 21 2/3 innings in his three starts at the Coliseum.
— Melvin said left-hander Brett Anderson will be ready to pitch again Sunday, if needed.
— The A’s intend to call up three players from the minors Sunday, Melvin said. Two or more are expected to join the ranks Tuesday.
The San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser said it’s “likely” that second baseman Jamile Weeks and outfielder Michael Choice will be among those called up Sunday.
Weeks entered Saturday’s game batting .273 for Triple-A Sacramento in the lead-off spot. Choice was hitting fourth and batting .298 for the same team.
— Catcher John Jaso is “feeling a bit better,” Melvin said. Jaso has been on the disabled list since July 25 after he suffered a concussion.
“He’s pretty antsy about getting out and hopefully getting some at-bats somewhere,” Melvin said. “We still haven’t ruled him out potentially being a piece for us in September.”
— The A’s are a majors-best 49-6 when they hit more home runs in a game than their opponent. Two of those victories came in the first two games of this series.