The Baltimore Orioles have 32 games left this season, of which they must win at least 23 to avoid being one of the top five statistically worst teams in the modern era of baseball which began in 1900. If you go back just slightly before that, they already are. Facing down a doubleheader, the Yankees called upon Sonny Gray, wearing his “Pickles” nickname jersey, to take one of the starts after being demoted to mop-up man a month ago for being ineffective.
Gray went out and delivered a win, which is what he is paid to do and what the Yankees needed, but rather than stick to the Bull Durham catchphrases every struggling player tends toward such as “I’m just glad I could help the team,” or “I’m just glad to contribute,” Gray began bragging as if he was Muhammad Ali prepping for the “Thrilla in Manila.” Once again, Sonny Gray managed to alienate himself from Yankee fans and his hometown press corp as reported by the New York Post.
His one partially saving grace is that he did tone his bragging down by the end of the interview, somewhat, dropping the appropriate cliches. Entering yesterday’s start, Gray had a 5.34 ERA and a WHIP over 1.50. He’s been one of the worst starters in either league with 20 or more starts this season. Beating a team with 37-93 record isn’t what most people who describe themselves as “one of the best starting pitchers in this league,” would generally pick as their bragging point, especially considering the Orioles he faced are a stripped down version of an MLB team that had a fire sale at the trading deadline.
Advance Media NJ reported that after the outing, Gray lowered his ERA to 5.05 and his WHIP to an even 1.50 in his 22 starts of the season. Despite looking almost masterful, members of the press were quick to point out that aside from Chris Davis, the lineup had no offensive threats, and even Davis is having a poor year. It was pointed out that no one is trying to down Gray, but bragging about beating a team headed for the fifth worst record in over a century is somewhat like Manute Bol bragging about blocking a layup attempt from Mugsy Bogues. It’s a little pointless and tasteless.
For all of Gray’s braggadocio and swagger, Yankee manager Aaron Boone stated it is good to know he could come through in a pinch, but he’s going back to the bullpen. With September call-ups quickly approaching, which means Justus Sheffield is heading to the bullpen, it is likely Gray will slide a bit further down the totem pole, but Boone had encouraging words for Gray.
“Sometimes adversity isn’t the worst thing to go through. You learn a lot of things about yourself. As I’ve always said, he’s a guy that is in the prime of his career and has the equipment to be really good. You’ve seen glimpses of it and we saw a glimpse of it tonight.”
By the end of his press conference, Gray had begun walking back some of his more over-the-top claims, and talked more in terms about when he “has his good stuff working,” he feels he is still a very good starter. When questioned about his feelings about what role he may take on for the team the rest of the season, he finally got on the page all struggling players read from and said the right thing. It hasn’t stopped fans from mocking him on social media and in forums, but it has taken some of the bite out of it.
“I’m going to do whatever they ask. I’ll go back to the bullpen and do whatever I can down there. I’ll start and do whatever I can in the rotation. I’m just ready for anything.”