OAKLAND -- August had been something of a lost month for Sonny Gray.
Until Friday. Faced with the challenge of getting the A's off to a good beginning against the first-place Los Angeles Angels, Gray couldn't have done much more than he did, pitching into the ninth inning of a 5-3 win that drew Oakland within one game of first place in the American League West.
"It was important not just for me but for the team to come away with a win tonight," Gray said. He threw 81/3 innings, giving up six hits, two of them early solo homers. "It was important no matter how we did it. From the first pitch to the last, we knew that coming in.
"That's how it's going to be when we play these guys."
Friday was the first of 10 games in the final five weeks of the season between these two teams, owners of the best records in baseball. The Coliseum crowd knew it, and they were roaring when Gray began the ninth inning. And they scaled it up when Gray was replaced by Sean Doolittle after a one-out walk.
Oakland outfielders Coco Crisp, Craig Gentry and Sam Fuld gathered in center while Doolittle was warming up, and Fuld told the others he'd never heard the Coliseum so loud.
"Coco told me, 'Just wait till the playoffs,' " Fuld said.
Fuld can't wait. It was his triple that broke a 2-all tie in the sixth and put the A's ahead to stay, and he got a sample of the postseason noise an impassioned Oakland crowd can generate when Doolittle, who allowed one run to score and loaded the bases with two out in the ninth, struck out pinch-hitter Chris Iannetta to end it.
The place exploded, nowhere more than in the A's dugout where one game seemed to pierce the veil of a substandard August. As his teammates rushed the field, catcher Derek Norris punched the sky with his fist.
"I don't know how he had the energy to fist pump like that," Doolittle said of Norris. "I was too tired to do it."
Doolittle's 19th save wasn't the classic overpowering performance he generally brings in the ninth inning, but he credited the Angels for that.
"That why that team's been so successful, coming from behind late as much as they have," Doolittle said. "They laid off some tough pitches and didn't try to do too much, just put out some good swings."
In the end, Doolittle was delighted to have saved this one for Gray, who was 0-4 with a 4.94 ERA in August.
"That was one of the best games we've seen from Sonny all year," Doolittle said. "Sonny did what he always does; he stayed poised. It's a big win for us, and we have to remember that it still just counts as one and we have to come here ready to play tomorrow."
Doolittle will be ready, even after throwing an abnormally high (for him) 26 pitches. He'd pitched only twice since Aug. 8.
Gray was stunned to see the game start with Mike Trout hitting his 28th homer with one out in the first.
"I thought I made a good pitch," Gray said of Trout's bomb. "I don't know how it got out, but it did."
Crisp came back moments later with his 15th career leadoff homer (13th with Oakland), the second this season. The center fielder would double and score on an Angels' throwing error to tie it at 2-2 in the fifth.
Fuld tripled home a run to break the tie in the sixth, then scored on an Andy Parrino sacrifice fly, and Oakland got some insurance in the eighth from Stephen Vogt, who delivered his ninth homer, meaning Gray began the ninth with a three-run lead.
Gray hadn't pitched more than seven innings since before the All-Star break. He wound up throwing 102 pitches before turning the ball over to Doolittle.
"They're not all going to look pretty, I guess," Doolittle said, laughing.
L.A. Angels (C.J. Wilson
10-8) at A's (Jon Lester
13-8), 6:05 p.m. CSNCA
LEADING THE CHARGE
With Friday's blast, Coco Crisp moved into a tie for third in A's franchise history for most leadoff homers:
Rickey Henderson 43
Eddie Joost 19
Coco Crisp 13
Bert Campaneris 13
A.L. WEST RACE
Team W L PCT. GB
Angels 76 51 .598 --
A's 75 52 .591 1