Two Big Innings Early in Oakland’s Walk-Off Win

The game stories might end up being about Stephen Vogt and that’s fine. He got the big walk-off hit and he hasn’t been celebrated much so far in his baseball career. But, as with many big moments, the seeds that resulted in that wild finish were sown much earlier in the day.

Consider the third inning.

Sonny Gray brushed back Torii Hunter, who was hit in Game One. Because he was hit, he was a bit on edge, and the pitch was high and tight as you can see below on the plot from Brooks Baseball. Hunter felt after the game that it was a bit too close to his head.

Toriihigh.php

So Hunter gestured at Gray, and the crowd began to percolate (click for GIFs and audio). After the game, Sonny said that Hunter was one of his favorite players growing up and that the former Angel once hit a line drive that “almost took my head off.” The moment on Saturday night got the pitcher “fired up a little bit.” But though he had “a little extra adrenaline,” Gray felt he was “still able to locate the ball.”

Sonny Gray hit 96+ mph one time all year. He’s thrown 995 pitches. Over the rest of the third inning Saturday night, Gray threw eight more pitches. Three of them went faster than 96 mph. A fourth went 95.98. The pitch to strike out Torii Hunter was the fastest pitch he threw out all year. The last 96 mph fastball of the inning struck out Miguel Cabrera to end the inning.

In the seventh inning, Gray still threw 94s and 95s to Miguel Cabrera, after averaging 93 on his fastball for the season. He averaged 94.6 on the fastball Saturday. One of his pitches went 96.7, and his previous max on the year was 96.4. That extra oomph helped him go toe to toe with Justin Verlander.

Before the game, Oakland radio host Guy Haberman asked Oakland manager Bob Melvin if there was any particular reason he was batting Jed Lowrie ahead of Josh Donaldson if he’d said in the past that it was “basically a coin flip.” Melvin tried to leave the question unanswered, but when pushed (“Is there a particular reason?”) he was contrite (“There is, but I’m not going to get into it, respectfully”).

We thought before the game that there might be something about trying to keep Drew Smyly away from lefty Brandon Moss. In the seventh inning, we saw exactly that unfold. Smyly came on to face the ninth spot, and Alberto Callaspo doubled. Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie swung around to the right side of the plate, and the A’s got one walk from them. With Josh Donaldson coming up, Al Alburquerque was brought in to face the righty. Had Melvin batted Donaldson ahead of Lowrie, Detroit Manager Jim Leyland could have used Albuquerque first, and then brought Smyly on to face Moss.

It may not seem like these things factored into the final inning. But Gray’s velocity and effectiveness kept the team in it while they were whiffing against an ace pitching like an ace in Justin Verlander. And maneuvering to keep both Brandon Moss (and therefore Alburquerque) in the game may have helped set the scene for Stephen Vogt‘s wild ride.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


24 Responses to “Two Big Innings Early in Oakland’s Walk-Off Win”

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  1. pmreddick says:

    This game was a pleasure to watch, solid pitching for sure. Nice to see the first 8.5 innings not be forgotten. And an awesome tale of how lineup construction worked so perfectly in such a close game.

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    • Ron Jon Surf Shop says:

      “And an awesome tale of how lineup construction worked so perfectly in such a close game.”

      It didn’t work perfectly, though. Both Donaldson and Moss struck out swinging once Alburquerque came in.

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  2. Hitler but Sadder says:

    Guy Haberman just gushed sexual about this article on 95.7 the Game. I hate most people on that station (mainly becuase they are even more alarmist than a Fox News broadcast) but I like Haberman. I also like this article. Lastly, I like the color purple.

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  3. baycommuter says:

    This was the most exciting game I’d attended in years! I figured the Lowrie-Donaldson reversal had something to do with L-R matchups, but you explained it very well. Not too many teams have switch hitters 9-1-2.

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  4. rubesandbabes says:

    Nice following along – there tonight, too. Thanks!

    There is also the concept of Donaldson’s superior offensive game vs. Lowrie. He was just player of the month…

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    • rubesandbabes says:

      The other thing is that when Donaldson was hitting #2, as a right-hander, he could keep a better eye on Coco at 1st. But since Coco isn’t stealing too much these days for team reasons…

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  5. Ruki Motomiya says:

    Best game of the playoffs so far. Great pitching duel!

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  6. FeslenR says:

    It’s safe to say Gray made himself into a household name in that game, at least in fantasy circles.

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  7. Worm Turner says:

    Loving the A’s coverage Eno, still trying to see a clip of Vogt’s laser to second!
    That double play was huge moment for me as an A’s fan, our catchers haven’t had a great track record throwing to second.

    Was also nice to finally meet you in front of Linden St’s stand, my friend is getting a big kick out of Beergraphs.

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  8. kq says:

    Small correction to the article: Callaspo hit a double in the ninth inning. May have changed the way they were pitching to Coco and Lowrie because of that since there was an open base and a runner already in scoring position with no force.

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  9. Jim Bouldin says:

    To me the bigger issue in the 7th was Vogt’s tenacious at bat. Verlander finally got him, but not after many foul balls and that may have emptied his tank, keeping him from starting the 8th.

    There was also the effort to keep Cespedes from scoring after leading off the 3rd or 4th with a triple.

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    • Helladecimal says:

      100% right. That was a most brilliant strikeout AB you’ll see this year. It was also incredibly tense as an A’s fan.

      Vogt was an absolute hero in this game.

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    • Swfcdan says:

      It was suprising not to see him come out for the 8th given how dominanant he was. Was he already well over 100 pitches?

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  10. Charlie says:

    Let’s all be honest here for a second. 90% of FanGraphs wants to see Oakland win. It’s why the site’s colors are shades of green.

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    • Helladecimal says:

      And that’s the way it should be

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      Nothing wrong with wanting to root for someone.

      Though, this post-season, I wear black and yellow, arr.

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    • Swfcdan says:

      You can’t argue with what the team does though. They probably pay the whole of their team on the salary that Prince gets.

      So rooting for them to make it past the Tigers this time. Think one things clear, this is going to another game 5!

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    • Swfcdan says:

      Just seen the A’s have to face Anibal and Scherzer coming up to take it back to Oaktown. God thats gonna be tough.

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      • Swfcdan says:

        Not to mention that Verlander guy if it reaches game 5….
        I’d suggest they really have to win tonight. If the A’s do win the series they will well and truly have deserved it.

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    • FeslenR says:

      And why not?

      the majority of baseball probably roots for the “established” teams.

      Don’t forget, if you are a fan and loyal reader of Fangraphs- Billy Beane and co. is kind of the forefather of this site.

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