MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Sonny Gray was a high school quarterback who helped his team win consecutive Tennessee state football championships, before narrowing his focus and joining Vanderbilt’s prestigious baseball program.
He’s pitched 11 years in the major leagues, including 1½ pressure-packed seasons for the New York Yankees, and made the All-Star Game three times along the way.
Last week, Gray got his first career win in the playoffs for the Minnesota Twins in a two-game AL Wild Card Series sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays. With the exception of the equally excellent Pablo López, there’s no one the Twins would rather turn to for a pivotal Game 3 against the Houston Astros in the AL Division Series on Tuesday afternoon.
“He’s made for the big moments,” teammate Kyle Farmer said. “He’s just a different breed of a pitcher.”
Though Gray had a decent debut season for Minnesota, he was hardly satisfied with just 24 starts and 119 2/3 innings while navigating some minor injuries and trying to find his footing after being acquired in spring training from the Cincinnati Reds for 2021 first-round draft pick Chase Petty.
Gray was as determined as ever this year to be more durable, reliable and pitch deeper into games, even calling out some of the others in the 2022 rotation for the way they seemed to him to be content with simply lasting five innings.
This season, the right-hander logged 184 innings for his highest total since 2015 with the Oakland Athletics. His ERA (2.79) was the third-best in baseball.
“It was the idea of attacking, knowing that your stuff is great, your stuff is some of the best stuff in the league,” Gray said. “It has been for a long time, and it still is.”
That’s the kind of bulldog mentality he used to bring to football, which he said Monday “might be my favorite sport.” Gray, who flew home from Houston early with his wife and two sons to get a good night’s rest and watched Minnesota’s 6-2 win in Game 2 with his family on TV, approaches opposing hitters much the same way he used to attack defenses as a quarterback.
“Here it is. I’m coming at you. Let’s see how far you can hit it,” Gray said.
Cristian Javier will start for the Astros in Game 3. After seven shutout innings from López, the Twins get to throw another ace.
“He was one of the first people to text me after I got traded. I don’t know who he got my number from, but he texted me really, really soon. He was like, ‘Looking forward to work with you,”’ López said.
They’ve made quite the pair.
“Sonny knows how to pitch,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said, “and Sonny’s not scared.”
Not even by Yordan Alvarez, who has three home runs in the first two games of the series.
“He seems to be hot right now, but they have good hitters throughout their lineup,” Gray said.
He’ll have the crowd on his side, too, with Target Field already selling out for both Games 3 and 4.
“These fans are excited for good baseball,” Farmer said, “and I think we’ll give it to them.”