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By Eric Gilmore, The Sports Xchange September 1, 2013 2:20 AM
Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday night.OAKLAND, Calif. -- Oakland A's rookie right-hander Sonny Gray was coming off the worst start of his young career when he started against the
Gray lasted just 3 1/3 innings in a 10-3 loss to Baltimore on Aug. 25. He exited that game after allowing six runs and eight hits. This time, Gray left the game to a standing ovation from a sellout crowd of 35,067 at O.co Coliseum after blanking the Rays for 6 2/3 innings on five hits. Gray (2-2) got back on track and the red-hot A's kept rolling with a 2-1 victory over the Rays. Gray struck out seven, walked one and threw 102 pitches, 62 for strikes. "It's never good to have rough starts, but you've got to have a short memory as a baseball player," Gray said. "We just looked at it and took the positives and went from there. "I didn't really change anything. We just focused on location. The fastball was elevated last weekend, so we just focused on getting it down." A's center fielder Coco Crisp gave Gray all the offensive support he needed, going 3-for-4, driving in two runs, stealing a base and hitting his 15th home run of the season, a solo shot in the eighth inning that gave the A's a 2-0 lead. In the sixth, Crisp hit an RBI single after catcher Stephen Vogt tripled. "He's getting better with age, man," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Crisp, who hit his fifth home run of the month. "He's like a nice bottle of wine. He just keeps getting better." Rays right-hander Alex Cobb (8-3) pitched a gem, too, but took the loss, snapping his five-game winning streak. Cobb pitched a complete game, allowing two runs and five hits in eight innings while striking out seven and walking four. "Both of them pitched well," Crisp said. "Cobb did an amazing job. His changeup is filthy. He has an amazing changeup, his breaking ball is plus and his fastball moves all over the place. And Sonny today, he did a great job of battling with him." The A's won for the fifth time in their past six games and remained two games behind first-place Texas in the American League West. They extended their lead for the first wild-card spot to 1 1/2 games over Tampa Bay and five over the third-place New York Yankees. The Rays fell 4 1/2 games behind first-place Boston in the AL East, losing for the sixth time in their past seven games. "The atmosphere was electric," Crisp said. "It's fireworks night tonight, so it was packed. So when you have a packed house it makes it a lot easier for you to go out and play. The energy's there. "When you're going up against a team this late in the season that you're kind of battling against, it makes it a little more exciting as well." A's closer Grant Balfour gave up a run in the ninth but picked up his 35th save. Balfour allowed a one-out double to Wil Myers and a walk to James Loney. After Jose Lobaton lined out to second baseman Eric Sogard, Myers moved to third on a wild pitch and Desmond Jennings lined an RBI single. Balfour retired pinch-hitter Kelly Johnson on a ground ball to end the game. "We haven't hit enough," Maddon said. "We've really pitched well, caught it. Just a lack of hitting. The offense really needs to pick up a bit." The frustration is building for Rays hitters. After he struck out against A's reliever Dan Otero in the eighth with two outs and a runner on second, Evan Longoria slammed his bat down in frustration. "There's no doubt I'm frustrated," Longoria said. "It seems like I can't put it together over long stretches. I keep doing the same things." Gray and Cobb matched zeroes for five innings before the A's broke through for a run in the sixth. Vogt, a former Ray, led off with his first career triple, a high blast that hit off the right-field wall and bounced past Myers, who tried to make a leaping catch. With the Rays' infield drawn in, Crisp grounded a single to center, driving in Vogt. Tampa Bay traded Vogt to the A's on April 6. At the time, Vogt had a career batting average of 0.00, going 0-for-25 in 18 games in 2012. He's hitting .244 with two home runs, two doubles, a triple and nine RBIS in 30 games for the A's. "Those are a lot of my friends and a lot of people that are very special to me in that dugout," Vogt said. "A lot of those people have had my back for years, and a lot of those people have believed in me for years. If nothing else, it was nice to showcase my ability to them." NOTES: Rays RHP Jamey Wright will start Sunday against the A's. He has 246 career starts but hasn't started since 2007 for Texas. ... Rays DH/OF Luke Scott (lower back spasms) was cleared by the Rays' medical staff and will be activated from the disabled list Sunday when major-league rosters are expanded. ... Crisp stole his 17th base of the season in the first inning, snapping a 25-game stretch without a theft, which matched the longest of his career. ... A's SS Jed Lowrie went 0-for-3, ending his career-high 12-game hitting streak, which was the longest active streak in the AL.