A's rookie pitcher Sonny Gray works in the second inning in Game 2. After shutting out the Tigers over eight innings in an eventual victory, Gray will draw the start for Thursday's Game 5 of the American League Division Series. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Detroit — Sonny, boy, you’re on the spot now.
Sonny Gray, all of 23 years old, is the A’s choice to pitch the winner-take-all Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Tigers in Oakland on Thursday night.
It wasn’t an easy decision for Bob Melvin, given the other choice was veteran Bartolo Colon, Oakland’s best regular-season pitcher.
But in the end, it came down to what we all saw in Game 2: a stunningly confident and poised Gray dominating the Tigers lineup, which looked no more comfortable against him late in the game than it did early.
“We looked at it from a bunch of different angles,” Melvin said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday night. “And the short of it is, it came down to Sonny’s last game that he pitched.
“So that’s the route we’re gonna go.”
Melvin told Gray about his decision a couple of hours before his 5 p.m. Pacific call with reporters.
The reaction sounded priceless.
“He was excited, the same type of look he had when we told him he was gonna pitch the second game,” Melvin said of Gray, who threw eight scoreless innings in Game 2, while allowing just four hits and striking out nine. “He had a smile on his face, and you could see his mind doing its preparation right then and there.”
As for the conversation with Colon, 40, Melvin said that was tough for him.
Colon had a big-time case to get the ball, but he responded to the decision with class.
“He just looked at me and said, ‘OK, I just want to win,’ ” Melvin said. “He definitely could’ve had a gripe, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he did.”
Colon will be available out of the bullpen in Game 5, though Melvin is not sure he would turn to him — given Colon has a specific routine ahead of his planned starts.
The entire bullpen, of course, will be on call. It’s “all hands on deck,” Melvin said — given the loser of the game will be going home.
Gray, again, will match up against Justin Verlander — who’s on some kind of roll of his own, with 23 consecutive scoreless innings against the A’s in the postseason.
He threw a complete-game shutout in last year’s Game 5, and shut down the A’s again in Game 2 this year — matching Gray zero for zero.
So what’s the plan of attack there?
“The strength of our offense all year has been to trust everybody, up and down the lineup, and not try to do too much,” shortstop Jed Lowrie said. “And I think that’s the easiest way to get to a guy like Verlander, is just give yourself as many opportunities to score as possible. Get guys on base, get him to throw some stress innings, stress pitches, so he’s just not able to cruise through innings.”
Melvin understands Verlander — who has struck out an eye-popping 33 in his last three playoff starts against Oakland — has had his team’s number, though he believes eventually the tables will turn.
Perhaps, he hopes, as early as Thursday night.
“He’s one of the best pitchers in all of baseball and he’s a big-game postseason pitcher, and we’ve just run into him at the wrong time, too many times,” Melvin said. “We still have to have confidence.
“We feel like we have a better chance to turn the tide.
Around the horn
Given the good at-bats he’s had in the series, including a duel with Max Scherzer late in Game 4, Alberto Callaspo is being considered for the start at second base in Game 5.
Melvin, though, is hesitant to do that, because it takes a weapon out of his hands for late — when he likes to bring in Callaspo in a matchup situation. Callaspo is a switch-hitter, with some pop.
Regular second baseman Eric Sogard doesn’t have a hit in nine at-bats this series.
… As for pulling Dan Straily after six innings and just 76 pitches in Game 4, Melvin shed some light on that. He said Straily pitched the last three innings with back tightness, perhaps attributed to the cold conditions.
… Game 3 starter Jarrod Parker might be available out of the bullpen, though Melvin said he was a little sore after his start. “I’m sure he’ll be willing to,” Melvin said.