OAKLAND -- There are impressive rookie home debuts, and then there are rookie home debuts that change the face of a team, both for the immediate pennant race and the long-term future of the franchise.
Sonny Gray's home debut in a 5-0 victory over on Houston on Wednesday fit the latter category for the A's. Ushering up fond memories of Tim Hudson and other past Oakland pitching prodigies, Gray wasn't just impressive earning his first major league victory in his maiden Coliseum outing. He was closer to historic.
Eight innings. Four hits. No runs. One walk. Nine strikeouts.
And if that isn't enough to grab your attention -- or the Texas Rangers' attention -- consider a 23-year-old kid who throws consistently in the mid-90s with movement and also can unleash a hard, sharp, reflex-locking curveball on a 3-2 count in the eighth inning, as he did to the frozen Astros leadoff man, Robbie Grossman.
It was a big day for rookies in the victory. In addition to Gray's jaw-dropping effort, first-year first baseman Nate Freiman had a breakout game -- 4 for 4, which included a two-run double and two-run homer. The four hits and four RBIs were both career highs, but even Freiman admitted he was a distant second on the hero board. This game was all about Gray, and what he means toward changing the team dynamic.
"He's huge for us, to have a guy like that who can go out and be that kind of dominant," said Freiman. "That was special today. That was a blast. I was getting into it."
He wasn't the only one.
"I hope to catch him several hundred more times," said catcher Derek Norris. "Without trying to talk him up too much -- he's definitely got room for improvement -- he's a good young arm, and he's going to be good for us down the stretch here."
Not even the wildest optimist expected eight zeros, though. Gray threw 118 pitches to get through those eight innings. Normally extra cautious with young starters, the A's let him go after he finished the seventh at 99. Why?
"He was as fresh at the end as he was at the beginning," said pitching coach Curt Young.
While the A's staff surely didn't realize it, going the extra inning also allowed Gray to one-up Hudson's Oakland starting debut on June 13, 1999. On that day, Hudson went seven innings, gave up seven hits, one earned run, walked two and struck out eight.
Gray, the A's first-round pick in the 2011 draft (18th overall) has been drawing the Hudson comparison for a long time, and manager Bob Melvin repeated it again after the game.
"As far as his stature (5-foot-11, 180 pounds), maybe throws a little bit harder, more a curve guy than split," said Melvin.
"I've been getting compared to him since high school -- the short righty," said Gray. "If you compare me with Tim Hudson, I'm happy with it. He's one of the greatest pitchers, so absolutely."
Hudson made his mark on the franchise's fortunes immediately, and Gray could do the same as the A's battle the Rangers down the stretch.
"I don't look it as far as changing the dynamic," said Melvin. "It just means we have another quality guy, and stuff-wise, he's probably as good as anybody we have. You want to make sure somebody like that is ready for the big leagues, more emotionally than anything else, and I think the organization did a smart thing starting him off in the bullpen a couple of times to get his feet wet."
Gray admitted it was nice to contribute to the race right away and also help the A's rest their weary bullpen.
"To be able to go eight innings is a pretty awesome feeling," he said. "And it was good that they had the confidence in me to leave me out there."
Coming off consecutive tough losses to the Astros, the A's really needed this game not just for the standings but for overall morale. Gray, and to an extent Freiman, gave them the same kind of rookie infusion they received last year down the stretch.
It helped that Gray got three runs of support in the first inning. The A's were on the board two hitters in when Chris Young walked and scored on Jed Lowrie's double to right-center against loser Erik Bedard (3-9). After Josh Donaldson walked, Freiman expanded that lead with his two-run double down the right-field line.
Freiman slammed a two-run homer to left field, his third homer overall, in the third inning, and Gray really locked in.
A's VS. CLEVELAND
Friday: A's A.J. Griffin (10-8, 3.88) vs. Justin Masterson (13-8, 3.59), 7:05 p.m. CSNCA
Saturday: A's Dan Straily (6-6, 4.19) vs. Ubaldo Jimenez (8-7, 4.11), 6:05 p.m. CSNCA
Sunday: A's Bartolo Colon (14-5, 2.97) vs. Scott Kazmir (7-5, 4.18), 1:05 p.m. CSNCA