OAKLAND -- Even when pitching without his best stuff, ace Sonny Gray still manages to exude the kind of ace-like qualities that make him so integral to this A's team.
The right-hander, a winner in the 5-3 decision against the Royals on Saturday that snapped Oakland's four-game losing streak, was admittedly frustrated during the game, much of it spent fending off a Kansas City club that forced him to throw 100 pitches by the end of the fifth inning.
That's when Gray gave the silent treatment to manager Bob Melvin.
"I just didn't look at him," Gray said, smiling. "I was waiting for the handshake, and in the back of my mind, I was like, 'Maybe he's going to give me the handshake, but if I just take a hard right turn and don't put my hand out, maybe he'll let me go back out there."
Melvin did, with a taxed bullpen in mind, and Gray responded with his best inning, a 1-2-3 frame with two strikeouts to finish at 114 pitches -- the third most of his career and most since firing 119 on May 3, 2015.
Just one earned run went to Gray, who has a 2.33 ERA after three starts.
"He's a guy that can handle a workload like that," reliever Sean Doolittle said. "Obviously, you don't want to see him with a pitch count like that very often, but today, he dug deep for us and was able to get through that sixth inning, and kind of give the 'pen a little bit of rest.
"You hear talk about a guy being an ace, they talk about the strikeouts and home runs, but it's in games like this where you maybe don't have your best stuff, the other team is running your pitch count up a little bit, and to be able to get through six innings on a day like today was huge for us."
"You can't forget what Sonny did," said Josh Reddick, who belted a first-inning, three-run homer. "Sonny didn't have probably his best stuff or his favorite stuff and he still went out there and does what he does."
Gray's sixth frame was one of only two in which he faced the minimum. The Royals struck quickly in the first against him, without even hitting the ball hard, and by the end of the first, Gray was sitting at 22 pitches. He was at 54 by the time he took the mound for the fourth, which ended up being his longest inning, at 32 pitches.
"It definitely wasn't one of those where you go out and throw six innings, give up two runs and you walk away and you're like, 'Pretty good outing,'" said Gray, who scattered seven hits. "They're just really, really pesky, and they continue to make you work every single at-bat. There were two or three times I would get two quick outs, and then 15, 16 pitches later I'm finally out of the inning."
"It was frustrating for him," Melvin said. "Some ground balls that just get past an extended glove or whatever, he was keeping the ball on the ground, not a lot of hard contact.
"We needed him to get through that sixth inning. You really have to put that frustration aside and be mentally tough to go out there and pitch the way he did."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.