OAKLAND -- A's ace Sonny Gray entered Wednesday's start against the Angels as the American League ERA leader and a strong contender in the Cy Young race. By day's end, following a 9-4 loss to the Angels, Gray was forced to surrender the former title, while perhaps taking a small step back in the latter competition.
Gray endured his worst start of the year, a season-high six-run outing spanning five innings. His ERA jumped from 2.13 to 2.36, second in the AL to Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel's 2.24 -- also in the Cy Young conversation -- and he hasn't won since Aug. 7.
But no one's worried about the right-hander, who believes he was simply beaten by a good offensive approach on this day. Only four times in 71 prior big league games had he surrendered as many as six runs.
"Sometimes your best guys are going to give up some hits," manager Bob Melvin said. "Some of the pitches they hit were good pitches, a couple of them were up, but I didn't think, overall, his stuff was too bad."
Catcher Josh Phegley said just as much, after Gray was tagged for five singles in a four-run first. He had yielded eight total earned runs in his previous five starts.
"Some of the pitches he made were exactly the ones he usually makes," Phegley said. "I think they just came in committed as a team to shooting him the other way. I think they've given up trying to hit him hard-pull side and just going with pitches and that allowed them to stay on breaking stuff better too. It just seemed they were on a lot of pitches today. They have a great lineup and a lot of great hitters, and it was a solid approach on their part."
The A's responded with a three-run first inning, fueled by Phegley's two-run homer, but were quieted again in the second when Albert Pujols lined a two-run shot to left field off Gray, who said, "I went and looked at it, and Phegley was going down to block it, Pujols just kind of stayed down and was able to backspin it. Just shows how strong he is."
"I felt fine," said Gray, who defused Cy Young talk. "I didn't think all the pitches I made were that bad, but they put some good swings on the ball and had four runs before you knew it."
The right-hander, who had a 0.97 ERA in his previous eight day starts, had not allowed more than five earned runs in any outing this season, and he had completed at least six innings in 15 of his previous 16 starts.
Gray will make at least six more starts in the final five weeks of play, plenty of time to make up the little ground he might've lost in what should be an intriguing Cy Young race.
"It's just tough, especially the way we responded in the first," Gray said. "To give up two back there in the second, it kind of took the air right out of us. We battled back there in the first inning and then, boom, it's a three-run deficit again. That was tough."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.