After getting traded to the Yankees on July 31, Sonny Gray made 11 regular-season starts and went 4-7 with a 3.72 ERA. He was knocked out early in Game 1 of the American League Division Series by the Indians and was bypassed by manager Joe Girardi until Game 4 of the American League Championship Series against the Astros on Tuesday.
Gray has yet to experience that “true Yankee moment” newcomers to pinstripes must have to become truly beloved in the Bronx.
The Yankees will be trailing in the ALCS when Gray takes the mound. If he pitches well and wins, that might be enough to earn him “true Yankee” status. If he pitches poorly and loses . . .
“Being here as a Yankee, it’s very nice to have the support and everyone knows the tradition and everyone knows the way that the Yankees fans expect to win, the players expect to win,” Gray said on Monday. “So it’s really nice to have that support behind you. It will be fun to pitch a playoff game here.”
If he pitches as well as he did in his first postseason start in 2013, Gray will quickly become a fan favorite in the Bronx. It was Game 2 of the ALDS against Detroit and Gray — then a 23-year-old rookie — threw eight innings in Oakland’s 1-0 victory.
His last two postseason starts haven’t gone as swimmingly. In the deciding Game 5 of that series, Gray gave up three runs in five innings and was the losing pitcher as the A’s were shut out in a game started by current Houston pitcher Justin Verlander, who struck out 10 in eight innings. And on Oct. 5, Gray gave up three runs in 3 1⁄3 innings in the Yankees’ 4-0 loss to the Indians in Game 1 of the ALDS.
The Yankees came back from an 0-2 deficit against Cleveland to give Gray another chance to earn his ’stripes. He’ll certainly be well-rested when he throws the first pitch of the 5:08 p.m. start. Whether 11 days off will be a help or hindrance is not yet clear.
“I feel good,” Gray said. “I got to work on a lot of stuff. That’s something that has been pretty beneficial to me. I’ve thrown a handful of bullpens and got to throw a [simulated] game the other day. The positive thing is I feel really good. I feel fresh and should be ready to go.”
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 from McCullers. “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.
"Getting him in a normal routine, normal warmup into the game, big-time breaking ball, the whole league knows it, he's got a really good fastball. He had a really good bullpen in between his last outing."
Gray knows he needs to make pitches against these Astros.
“I got to throw strikes and give us a chance to win," he said. "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.’’
With Steven Marcus