The best example came early. Already trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the first inning, the Mariners put runners at first and third with no outs and their three-four-five hitters coming to bat. They settled for one run when Gray retired all three hitters, and that served as the crest of their offensive performance. For the game, the Mariners went zero for 10 with runners in scoring position.
Most of that futility came against Gray (2-0) before Sean Doolittle and Luke Gregerson worked the final two innings.
“(Gray) kind of reminds me of Roy Oswalt,” designated hitter Logan Morrison said. “He has a little sneaky heater that goes both ways. A good curveball. He’s really good at throwing backdoor off-speed pitches to lefties.
“When you’re getting ready for 96, and he throws a backdoor curveball at 81, it’s tough.”
Doolittle retired four straight hitters, but the Mariners stirred to life against Gregerson with successive one-out singles in the ninth by Willie Bloomquist and Dustin Ackley.
Then nothing. Gregerson closed out the victory by striking out Michael Saunders and retiring John Buck on a grounder to short.
“We had opportunities,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “We just didn’t take advantage of them.”
Fact is, the A’s weren’t much better at the plate. They got a two-run homer in the first inning from Josh Donaldson and something of a gift run in the third inning when Ackley botched a catch in left.
That was it, but that was enough on a chilly night.
Mariners starter Erasmo Ramirez (1-2) battled trouble throughout his five innings but limited the damage to those three runs.
The A’s put their leadoff hitter on base in each inning against Ramirez but, after Donaldson’s homer, only scored when Ackley dropped a ball while transferring it from glove to hand.
That also happened to Ackley on Yeonis Cepedes’ leadoff drive in the sixth, but the Mariners recorded the out when Cepedes moved toward the dugout after what he believed to be a catch.
The A’s jumped to their 2-0 lead after Coco Crisp opened the game by reaching on a dribbler up the first-base line. Ramirez struck out Jed Lowrie before Donaldson crushed a 2-0 pitch for a one-out homer.
“That was supposed to be a cutter,” Ramirez said, “but it didn’t break. It was just straight. So straight, and he took advantage of that.”
Gray also found early trouble when singles by Abraham Almonte and Brad Miller put runners at first and third with no outs. Robinson Cano’s soft grounder produced the run before Gray struck out Justin Smoak and retired Kyle Seager on a fly to left.
“That’s who (Gray) is,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “He has a tendency to tighten up a little bit when he has to. He’s a tough competitor, and he hates giving up runs.
“When he ends up with guys on base, he pitches like he has to.”
Ramirez worked around a Alberto Callaspo’s leadoff double in the second but found more trouble by starting the third with walks to Crisp and Lowrie.
A fielder’s-choice grounder put runners at first and third before Brandon Moss sent a drive into the left-center gap. Ackley made a sliding catch but dropped the ball on the transfer.
The result was an RBI single that scored Crisp, but Moss was out for passing Donaldson, who retreated to first after believing the ball was caught. The A’s led 3-1.
That’s how it ended, although the Mariners mounted a two-out threat in the fourth when Seager walked and went to third on Morrison’s single. Gray stranded both by striking out Ackley.
Gray also survived a threat in the seventh when Ackley sliced a one-out double into the left-field corner and went to third on a ground out before Buck walked. It came to nothing when Almonte struck out.
“You get a guy throwing that hard,” McClendon said, “and he’s getting his breaking ball over for strikes, it’s going to be a long night.”
By Bob Dutton
The News Tribune
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