DETROIT — Is there a case to be made for Sonny Gray as the Game 5 starter if the A's and Tigers wind up getting there?
A's manager Bob Melvin has to make that call in the next 48 hours after an 8-6 loss to Detroit forced the American League Division Series to a decisive fifth game Thursday.
Before the game, the A's were going with Game 1 starter Bartolo Colon in Game 5. Colon, the loser in a 3-2 game, may be replaced by Gray, who threw eight shutout innings against the Tigers in Game 2.
Asked after Tuesday's game in Comerica Park, Melvin said "I haven't decided yet," when ask about his Game 5 starter. The Tigers have. By using Max Scherzer in relief to get the win Tuesday, Detroit committed to Justin Verlander, who threw a shutout at the A's in Game 5 in Oakland last year.
Gray last pitched on Thursday, as did Verlander in a game the A's won 1-0 after both men were out of the game. Both men would be going on their every-fifth day turn if they are matched up again.
Colon, the A's 18-game winner who pitched reasonably well but lost Game 1 in the Coliseum, would be pitching with extra rest, which isn't that big a deal.
What is a big deal is that the Tigers, who have seen Colon over the years, have a book on him. They know what he throws. Colon can beat them, but he hasn't this year. The A's are 1-2 in games Colon has pitched against the Tigers this year.
He got no decisions in the two games he pitched against them in the regular season, one win and one loss. The A's won the first game in 12 innings in the Coliseum in April after Colon allowed three runs in seven innings. The Tigers scored a walkoff win against Grant Balfour on Aug. 29 after Colon had allowed one run in five innings and left with a 6-1 lead.
Gray has only pitched once against the Tigers, but it was a true eye-opener, an eight-inning, four-hit, two-walk, no-run effort in which he, too, didn't get the win. After Balfour pitched a scoreless ninth inning Saturday in Oakland, the A's got a walkoff win on Stephen Vogt's bases-loaded single in the ninth.
Afterward the Tigers were full of praise for Gray, who has pitched well in 10 of his 11 starts since his promotion from Triple-A Sacramento.
The Vanderbilt product seems destined to be a star. What the A's have to decide now is if they want to double down on Gray in this series.
One major byproduct would mean that Colon would get the Game 1 start against the Red Sox in Fenway Park, where the series will start if Boston comes out of the other ALDS on top, rather than Gray, who has never pitched here.
A's manager Bob Melvin, in having Gray pitch Game 2 against the Tigers, made a big case for how Gray has pitched well in big games in the Coliseum.
This move would support that.