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October 7, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

ALDS Game Two Recap: A's 1, Tigers 0

by Sam Miller

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Sonny Gray was sitting on the stage, taking questions, with a little mustache that Derek Holland would have made fun of and a voice that has never once been mistaken on the phone for his dad’s. A guy in a suit says “last question,” and about then Justin Verlander quietly walks into the room for his turn on stage. Verlander is showered, dressed, cologned. He’s wearing this suit,

and he looks like Ben Affleck accepting an Oscar. He looks as at-ease as Ben Affleck getting a popsicle from his freezer. Gray’s a little nervous, a little out of breath, his arm wrapped in a bundle of ice that's as big as a tumor that’s as big as a bundle of ice. As he leaves and Verlander arrives, they meet in the middle, and Gray puts his hand out, shakes with Verlander, who gives a pat on the shoulder to the kid who is at least seven inches shorter and $66 million (to date) poorer. It’s pretty cute.

Gray matched Verlander zero for zero, but it’s maybe not fair to say he matched him pitch for pitch. Verlander was unhittable: 20 swinging strikes, 11 punchouts in 26 batters. Gray was very, very good, but more unhit than unhittable. Only 59 percent of his pitches were strikes, only nine of his strikes were swinging. It’s a very minor distinction, though. Both pitchers were fantastic. And nobody threw a pitch I liked more than this one from Gray:

“He was able to use his angst and energy for a positive,” Verlander said. “A lot of young guys it works against him. That’s why veterans usually seem to do a little better in postseason pressure. He handled himself like a veteran.”

Guess the MLB.com headline!

  • Sonny With A Chance Of Reign
  • Sonny Ball!
  • Final Vogt Cast
  • A World of Gray
  • It’s Always Sonny In Kill Me I Can’t Believe I’m Going Here

Stephen Vogt was the other hero, for his game-winning single. Before that, though, he had the defensive play of the game, gunning down Jose Iglesias attempting to steal with a runner on third. “Sonny’s usually really quick to the plate,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “That particular pitch he really needed to make a pitch and was probably as slow to the plate as he was all game. Stephen got off an unbelievable throw. I think Sonny was probably about 1.4 and Stephen needed to be about 1.8 to get that runner.” (I had Vogt at 1.75 on my watch.) (I had the boys choir that sang the national anthem at 10.7 seconds for the last word, “braaaaave.”) “That is a huge play in the game. It gets forgot about a little but at the time that’s as big a play as ultimately the hit he got.”

That’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but only a bit. Once Iglesias took off, it was either going to be runners on second and third with two outs or the end of the inning. Gray all but conceded the former. Vogt made it the latter. That’s a nearly .6-run swing in run expectancy. Sure, only the fifth inning, but in a game/matchup/ballpark with some of the lowest overall run expectancy we’ll see all postseason.

Vogt wasn’t a full-time catcher until this year, and he wasn’t even a frequent catcher until 2010, when he was 25. Before that, he caught just 26 games in three seasons as a pro. This year he threw out 31 percent of baserunners, better than league average.

“I’ve gotten a lot better behind the plate,” he said. “Just a) getting a chance to catch and b) just working on it. I’ve done a lot of work on my own. I had a catching coach Jamie Nelson with the Rays and he told me my throwing needed to be better if I wanted to catch in the big leagues.”

Headline answer:

Oh, man. Night ruined.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

1 comment has been left for this article.

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