OAKLAND, Calif. — For much of the season, Stephen Vogt caught Sonny Gray with Triple-A Sacramento. Neither could have pictured pairing up on such a sensational playoff moment for the Athletics when they were 90 miles away in California’s capital.
One a heralded rookie and the other a relative unknown pushing 29, they provided everything Oakland needed in a 1-0 victory Saturday night that tied its AL division series with the Detroit Tigers at one game apiece.
Vogt hit a bases-loaded single in the ninth inning after Gray matched zeros with Justin Verlander in a dazzling postseason debut.
“Knowing that we had worked together for so many innings throughout the year, we were talking before the game: ‘Hey, it’s just like this lineup is similar to a lineup in Triple-A,’” Vogt said.
Well, not really. The Tigers feature 2012 Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and $214 million slugger Prince Fielder.
Gray handled them all with the poise of a seasoned ace.
Yoenis Cespedes and Seth Smith hit back-to-back singles against loser Al Alburquerque to start the winning rally, then Josh Reddick was intentionally walked before Rick Porcello entered to face Vogt. He lined a clean single past drawn-in shortstop Jose Iglesias and into left-center.
“It’s just really nice to come out in front of these home fans in a must-win game and come through,” Gray said. “It was awesome.”
The AL West champion A’s had eight walk-off wins during the regular season, then did it again at the perfect time on baseball’s October stage.
It was Vogt’s first career game-winning hit — and it came after he lost a 10-pitch battle with Verlander in the seventh for his third strikeout of the night.
Grant Balfour pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the win, but it was Gray and Vogt who took celebratory whipped cream pies to the face.
Game 3 is Monday afternoon in Detroit. Jarrod Parker, who pitched Game 1 at Comerica Park last year and lost to Verlander, goes for the A’s against 14-game winner Anibal Sanchez.
“I knew there was going to be a lot of adrenaline and how I was able to harness that adrenaline was going to be a big factor in the game,” Gray said. “It was awesome because I was still able to locate my pitches without being too shaky.”
This marked the first game in postseason history in which both starters had nine strikeouts and no runs allowed.
Gray hung tough with a masterful Verlander in a thrilling pitchers’ duel between the rookie making his 11th career start and the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner. Each calmly worked out of tough jams, wore their emotions on their sleeves — with fist pumps and cheers — and set down the heart of the other’s batting order.
Gray struck out nine in eight dazzling innings, allowing four hits. Verlander, who beat the A’s twice in the ALDS last fall, struck out 11 to give him 33 Ks in his past three postseason outings against Oakland.