The A’s locked up reliever Sean Doolittle with a contract extension Friday afternoon, just hours before prized prospect Sonny Gray showed once again that he also has the makings of a franchise cornerstone.
Gray kept the Astros in check for six innings and cruised to his third victory without a loss this season, in large part because of a seven-run outburst in the first inning that catapulted the A’s to an 11-3 win at the Coliseum.
A matchup between the top pitching prospects from the respective organizations – Gray and Houston’s Jarred Cosart – lasted less than one inning.
Gray did his part. It was Cosart who failed to live up to the hype. Cosart departed after 39 pitches and seven runs on his ledger.
As so often is the case, the A’s relied upon a formula that they call power and patience.
Wait for certain pitches, take some walks along the way and tee off when the desired pitches arrive.
“That’s how you get starting pitchers out of the game,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “That’s how you get to bullpens early. That’s how you can beat good starting pitchers. … That’s been an attribute of ours for the better part of two-plus years now.”
It worked to perfection Friday. Yoenis Cespedes started the A’s onslaught with a two-run single after Cosart walked the bases loaded. Alberto Callaspo added a three-run home run and Josh Reddick drilled a two-run shot before Cosart got yanked with one out.
The A’s batted for so long in the first inning that Gray warmed up in the bullpen, while Cosart labored on the primary mound, just to guard against stiffening up.
Gray made it through the long wait just fine. Not that he cared, given the fact he benefited from the offensive explosion and it made his job that much easier.
Cespedes tacked on a solo home run in the second, which extended the lead to 8-0 and almost matched the nine runs the A’s scored in Gray’s first three starts combined.
Just about everyone got in the act offensively for the A’s on Friday. Right fielder Reddick entered the game in a 1-for-17 slump and without any extra-base hits all season.
Reddick changed his fortunes in a hurry with a home run and a single in his first two at-bats. He added a single in the seventh.
“I felt really good up there,” Reddick said. “It’s the best I felt since opening night. I just got to build off of it, come back tomorrow and hopefully do the same thing.”
This was the kind of game that players off to slow starts such as Cespedes and Reddick might look back upon and point to as a turning point.
Cespedes raised his average from .213 to .246 and Reddick from .098 to .156 with 3 for 4 performances.
“Actually helping the team for once felt really good,” Reddick said.
Friday’s game also provided the A’s a much-welcomed breather from the kind of games that typified most of their most recent road trip, where the final six games were decided by three runs or less.
The A’s no doubt would like to use some of the runs they scored Friday for the remaining two games of the series.
Then again, it might not matter. The A’s improved to 21-5 against the Astros all-time, which is the best record by one team against another, with a minimum of 20 games.
Friday’s result and recent history suggest that the A’s are primed to pile up wins like cordwood based on the fact they play the Astros six more times in the next nine days.
Gray surrendered three earned runs against the Astros, or one more than he allowed in his first three starts combined.
But he was sharp enough to make it through six innings, keep the Astros from mounting a comeback and giving manager Bob Melvin the luxury of not taxing his bullpen.
“He continues to be good without probably seeing his best game to this point yet,” Melvin said.
— There’s something about the Astros that brings out the best in Cespedes, who banged out three hits and added a walk in his first four at-bats. He now has hit safely in 13 straight games against the Astros, to the tune of .415 (22-for-53).