It was just after midnight on Tuesday, and Sonny Gray was hours away from taking the mound against the Astros at Yankee Stadium in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
Gray said he is not not anxious about the assignment, which is pretty straightforward: Pitch well enough so the Yankees can tie the best of seven ALCS at two games apiece.
“Nervous, no I’m really excited,’’ he said.
Gray is something of the forgotten man among the starters. After coming over the A’s, he went 4-7 with a 3.72 ERA in 11 starts. He started Game 1 of the ALDS against the Indians and was the losing pitcher, giving up three runs in 3 1/3 innings. He also walked four. That relegated him to No. 4 in the ALCS.
In an interview Monday on WFAN, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman explained why Gray had slipped. “He hasn’t been commanding the zone as much,’’ Cashman said. “He’s got great stuff, but ultimately, this is October baseball . . . If Gray’s going to take Game 4, it’s because the guys in front of him were pitching better. It’s as simple as that.’’
Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino and CC Sabathia did their jobs in the first three games. The vibe in the clubhouse is win the next two games at home and take a 3-2 lead back to Houston. Gray knows what is expected of him.
“I got to go out there and throw some pitches,’’ Gray said, “I got to throw strikes and give us a chance to win. I’m excited to try to continue the way that we throw the ball. Hopefully, we can continue to pass the ball along. I think we’ve made really big pitches in big spots. To shut down a good offense, they’re going to put pressure on you. If you can get out of the innings where they really put pressure on you it’s big for us. It’s another game that we need to win. It should be a fun opportunity.’’
Gray will be opposed by righthander Lance McCullers Jr., who had a great first half but was done in by injuries to the point where he pitched only 16 innings since August as arm fatigue and back issues sidelined him.
Astros manager A.J Hinch isn’t exactly sure what to expect. “Well, I think that’s the unknown,’’ he said. “He’s a really good pitcher. He’s got really electrifying stuff, some of the best stuff in the big leagues.”