Rangers Sweep A’s Out Of First Place, Steal AL’s Best Record on Perez’s Complete-Game Shutout

By Matthew Harrington

For the first time in the 2014 season, the Oakland Athletics failed to pick up a single win in a series, dropping the Wednesday matinee finale 3-0 to suffer a sweep at the hands of the Texas Rangers at O.Co Coliseum. Southpaw Martin Perez (4-0, 1.42 ERA) out-dueled A’s ace Sonny Gray,  taming the potent Oakland offense in a complete game, three-hit shutout. The win improbably propels the Rangers (14-8), battered with injuries to key personnel at nearly every spot on the diamond, over the A’s to the best record in the American League and first place in the division.

The A’s (13-8) only had one batter advance past first base all afternoon. Josh Donaldson doubled on a line drive to Michael Choice in left field with one down in the bottom of the seventh but the A’s failed to convert on the opportunity with a man in scoring position. Perez followed up Oakland’s other two base-hits, singles by Jed Lowrie and catcher Derek Norris, by inducing the next batter to bounce into a double-play each time. Lowrie, Donaldson and Norris were the only A’s base runners all afternoon, as Donaldson and Norris also drew the only two walks for the green and gold.

A couple of players with ties to the A’s, including former prospect Michael Choice and one-time utility infielder Donnie Murphy, collected run-scoring base hits to lead the visitors over the A’s for Oakland’s first loss by more than two runs this season.

Texas touched Gray (3-1, 2.25 ERA) up for a run in the first inning after the A’s starter gave up a walk to ex-Athletics farmhand Michael Choice. Gray bounced back to strike out Elvis Andrus, finishing off the shortstop looking on a masterful 80 mph curveball. Gray didn’t fare as well against Alex Rios who ripped an 0-1 fastball to left field for an RBI triple and a 1-0. The Rangers scored in the first inning in all three games of the series.

With Rios 90 feet from home and only one out, the Rangers appeared on the verge of a big inning. The clean-up hitter Prince Fielder appeared to expand the visiting team advantage after grounding a Gray offering to shortstop Jed Lowrie. Lowrie made the heads up play to try to cut an advancing Rios down at home plate, but home plate umpire Larry Vanover signaled Rios safe on the tag play. After A’s manager Bob Melvin challenged the play, the call on the field was overturned and the second run of the game became the second out instead.

The Rangers tagged Gray with another run after Leonys Martin singled to open the fifth then came around on Choice’s one-out single to center fielder Craig Gentry. Choice, Oakland’s no. 3 prospect in 2013 according to Baseball America, came over in the December trade that brought Gentry and Josh Lindblom to Alameda County. The A’s also shipped infielder Chris Bostick, the only player in the deal without Major League experience this year, to the Lone Star state.

One inning later Donnie Murphy wrapped up the scoring, launching a 3-1 fastball over the wall in left for a 3-0 Rangers lead. Gray fed Murphy a steady diet of fastballs in the at-bat, throwing five-straight heaters to the Rangers second sacker.

Gray pitched another scoreless inning but his offense couldn’t pick him up in the end. He headed to the showers down 3-0 on five hits and three earned runs. Gray struck out eight and walked four. Drew Pomeranz and Jim Johnson finished up the loss with a scoreless inning a piece.

Oakland hits the road for the next 10 games, heading to both American League outposts in Texas before a trip to Boston to face the defending World Series Champion Red Sox. The A’s open the road trip with a quartet against the Houston Astros, a team the A’s swept before seeing roles reversed against the Rangers. Scott Kazmir will take the mound for the second consecutive game against the ‘Stros. The veteran hurler pitched eight innings and surrendered three runs, two earned, but picked up the no decision on April 19th. Just like in that Saturday Showdown, he’ll be opposed by winless lefty Brett Oberholtzer. Oberholtzer gave up a lone run in five and two-third innings of work against the A’s.

Vogt, Gray lead the A’s past the Tigers in Game 2

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Justin Verlander was filthy and Sonny Gray surprised everyone with his poise and confidence, but ultimately Stephen Vogt and his inside-out, single through a drawn-in infield stole the show on Saturday night.

Vogt’s single with the bases loaded scored Yoenis Cespedes with the game’s only run in the A’s 1-0 win that evened the ALDS series with Game 3 scheduled for Detroit on Monday.

You come up bases loaded, nobody out, and that’s what you dream of,” Vogt said.  “Look for something over the plate, stay in the middle of the field, just fortunate to come through.”

Prior to his game-winning moment, Vogt looked like a lot of other frustrated hitters on Saturday.  Verlander and Gray not only dominated the proceedings to that point, they embarrassed hitters along the way, combining to strike out 20, marking the first time in Major League post-season history that both starting pitchers struck out at least nine batters and didn’t allow a run.

Verlander and Gray both scattered four singles over the length of their outings, with the Detroit starter going seven while striking out 11.  Gray went eight innings and struck out nine.

Verlander’s big outing wasn’t a surprise, but when he produced one of the best starts of his career, the fact that Gray was able to match him nearly pitch-for-pitch was.   While Verlander backed off the heat just a little and had A’s hitters guessing what pitch was coming next, Gray stuck to his fastball-curveball combo to perfection, blowing up the strike zone and using his devastating curve as his out pitch.

Remember, Verlander’s a 30-year old veteran with six All-Star appearances while Gray’s made just 10 starts at the Major League level.

“You know, 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 post-season pressure.  He handled himself like a veteran and it was impressive.”

Both starters allowed a pair of baserunners to reach in the fifth inning, but they turned up the pressure at that point instead of letting the pressure cook them.  With two on and one out, Gray struck out Austin Jackson and Vogt threw out Jose Iglesias attempting to steal second base.  Verlander allowed the first two runners to reach and then retired Josh Reddick and struck out Vogt and Eric Sogard.

In the A’s ninth, Cespedes and Seth Smith singled off Al Alburquerque and Reddick was intentionally walked to load the bases.  Detroit manager Jim Leyland opted for Rick Porcello—normally a starter—at that point and he allowed Vogt’s game-winning hit on a 1-1 pitch.

The A’s avoided falling behind 2-0 in the series and will need to win just one of the two games in Detroit to force a series-deciding Game 5 back in Oakland on Thursday.

Miguel Cabrera went 1 for 4 with a strikeout and Detroit leadoff man Jackson struck out in all four of his plate appearances.  The Tigers’ Don Jackson joined Cespedes and Seth Smith as the only hitters in the game to produce two hits.

On Monday, Jarrod Parker will face the Tigers’ Anibal Sanchez at 1:07 EST in Detroit.