Gray was absolutely dominant through his first four innings, looking very much like his old self in a display that saw him strike out six and allow no hits. That version of the right-hander also appeared in the sixth, when Gray notched two more strikeouts in a clean inning.
Yet it was the fifth inning that proved most telling, and not because he wavered from his mastery over the Rangers temporarily. That he returned to it trumped in significance.
"I've had some innings get away from me this year, and to make the pitches that I needed to make there in order to get those guys out was something I hadn't been able to do for a lot of this year," Gray said. "I was able to do that tonight and go back out for the sixth and have a clean inning."
Gray yielded a base hit to Rougned Odor to open the fifth, fortunately watching him get thrown out trying to stretch it into a double ahead of Joey Gallo's home run to left-center field. Ryan Rua kept things going with a single, and Mitch Moreland slammed a mistake pitch for a two-run homer to help the Rangers secure three quick runs.
That's when A's manager Bob Melvin paid a visit to Gray, who has been in the middle of so many similar situations during an uncharacteristically tough season.
"You gotta remind him who Sonny Gray is," Melvin said. "Sonny Gray is one of the best pitchers in the American League."
The hit parade resumed, but not for long. After Gray allowed a double to Robinson Chirinos and walked Jurickson Profar, he induced a pair of critical ground balls from Nomar Mazara and Ian Desmond to limit the damage and earn himself another inning.
"I know that gave him a lot of confidence," teammate Josh Reddick, who drove in three runs, said.
"The first four innings, and even the sixth inning, that's the pitcher who I want to be," said Gray, who has won each of his six starts in Arlington. "That's the pitcher who I've been my whole career, not only in the big leagues but my whole life, and I don't know what it's been this year, I can't explain that one inning. It seems like every start there's one inning that gets to me, but it was good Bob came out there and got me on."