OAKLAND – They spent much of the year as battery-mates in Sacramento, playing for the Triple-A River Cats. Saturday night at the Oakland Coliseum, they graduated to MLB postseason stardom.

Sonny Gray, the phenomenal rookie pitcher, logged a performance for the ages in Game 2 of this American League Division Series, and Stephen Vogt, the journeyman catcher from Visalia, delivered the winning hit in the A's 1-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers. The sellout crowd went home happy, and their team's playoff hopes remained alive.

"I've thrown to him all year," Gray said of Vogt. "I threw to him every start in Sacramento, except for maybe two. And we have really good chemistry. He came up big for us, and it was awesome for him to be in that moment."

Vogt's walk-off single against a drawn-in infield in the bottom of the ninth inning capped another close game between these teams, who also faced off in the ALDS last year, the Tigers winning in five games.

But it was Gray, the 23-year-old who looks like he'll be trick-or-treating in a few weeks, who stole the show. Gray matched Detroit ace Justin Verlander pitch for pitch, strikeout for strikeout, all night long. Gray even managed to outlast Verlander, a renowned workhorse. Gray made it through eight innings. Verlander didn't make it out for the bottom of the eighth.

Verlander threw 117 pitches, Gray 111. Verlander struck out 11 batters, Gray nine. Each allowed four hits (and three of Gray's didn't even leave the infield), and each did it with raw heat and daring. And neither got a decision. Grant Balfour got the win after pitching the ninth inning in relief, and Al Alburquerque got the loss.

The series resumes Monday in Detroit.

At times, Gray and Verlander almost seemed to be trying to one-up one another's exploits.

In the top of the third inning, Gray struck out the top of the Detroit order – Jackson, Torii Hunter, and Miguel Cabrera. Verlander countered in the bottom of the fourth, when he struck out three of the A's four hitters – all of them looking.

That was a common theme for Verlander on Saturday night. He's a power pitcher known for his wicked fastball, but he repeatedly buckled the A's hitters with two-strike curveballs. Six of his first seven strikeouts in Game 2 were on called strikes.

Verlander, who struggled in the middle of the 2013 season before finding his rhythm down the stretch, got stronger as the night went on.

"He always does that," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He will start out 92, 93 (miles per hour), and in the later innings he's throwing 97. And I think that's by design."

Verlander couldn't have picked riper victims, of course. The A's, a team always willing to trade a few misses for the occasional long ball, have shown themselves to be prodigious whiffers in postseason play. Last year Oakland struck out 50 times against these same Tigers, an Oakland record for a five-game series. Now they have gone down swinging 29 times in two games.

Before the ninth inning, the A's chances were few and far between. Through the first six innings, they got just one runner to second. That was in the fifth, when Yoenis Cespedes and Seth Smith led off with singles. Josh Reddick helped sabotage the mini-rally by bunting right to third baseman Cabrera in the air, and Verlander finished off Vogt and Eric Sogard with strikeouts.

In the bottom of the seventh, Brandon Moss walked and took third base on Reddick's two-out single, with Reddick heading to second on Hunter's throw to third. Vogt fell behind 0-2, then fouled off five pitches, the crowd building to a frenzy before Verlander got him swinging – on a letter-high, 98-mph fastball.

Finally, in the ninth, the A's broke through. Cespedes opened the frame with a ground-ball single to left field, and Smith followed with a single to right past the diving Prince Fielder at first base. After a walk to Reddick, Vogt ended the struggle with a single past shortstop Jose Iglesias, who was playing up for a play at home.

Immediately afterward, as the sellout crowd serenaded the A's, Gray and Vogt both get whipped-cream pies to the face, and Vogt endured a Gatorade bath as well. In the outfield, workers were already starting to convert the stadium for Sunday's Raiders-Chargers game.

(You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.)