Oct 9 (Reuters) - The Athletics are turning to rookie starting pitcher Sonny Gray instead of Game One starter Bartolo Colon to hold the Tigers down in Thursday's deciding game of their American League Division Series in Oakland.
The winner of Game Five will advance to the best-of-seven American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox.
Oakland manager Bob Melvin announced the decision to give the ball to the 23-year-old Gray, who was virtually unhittable in Game Two, on Wednesday in a conference call to reporters.
"Obviously we had two great options there with Bartolo," Melvin said.
"We looked at it a bunch of different angles, we have a lot of smart people in our front office and baseball operations, and the short of it is, it came down to Sonny's last game that he pitched in similar conditions in our ballpark."
Gray will be dueling Detroit starter Justin Verlander, who pitched seven shutout innings in Game Two on Saturday following the Tigers' 3-2 victory in the opener.
Oakland's young right-hander, who combines a devastating curveball with a blistering fastball, went one better than former Cy Young and MVP winner Verlander by throwing eight scoreless innings while allowing four hits in the A's victory.
While Gray is heading into unknown territory pitching in an elimination game, Verlander will be reprising his role of a year ago when he hurled a complete-game with 11 strikeouts in a Game Five victory against Oakland that put Detroit into the American League Championship Series.
Colon, 40, lost to Detroit in the opening game of this year's series, but after giving up three runs in the first inning, he tossed five scoreless innings.
Yet the beefy Dominican has had trouble against the Tigers in the past, notching his last win against Detroit in 2003, going 0-8 in 14 starts against them in that span.
Should the A's advance to the ALCS, which begins in Boston on Saturday, Colon would likely start Game One against the Red Sox. (Reporting by Larry Fine in New York, Editing by Greg Stutchbury)