OAKLAND -- Sonny Gray, who may or may not be the A's staff ace, beat the Angels on Sunday and that made his record 6-1 — superb — and that made his earned run average 2.45 — ditto on superb.
Because he won, the A's swept the Angels and increased their lead over the Anaheims to 4? games. Gray was sometimes overpowering and, when he got into trouble, he mostly got out of it. He passes the statistics test and he passes the eye test. Just looking at him you know this is an elite pitcher.
But is he an ace?
It is a serious question and the answer helps define Gray and helps define the A's. And it brings on two more questions — please bear with me. What is an ace? Do the A's have an ace?
First, let's do definitions. An ace is a team's opening-day pitcher. An ace pitches the big game in the postseason. An ace ends a losing streak, never lets things get out of hand, never allows chaos to intrude upon a respectable season. An ace out-pitches the opponent's ace. On Sunday, Gray out-pitched Angels' ace Jared Weaver.
By those definitions, Gray is an ace, is the A's staff ace.
There are more parts to the definition. And maybe these are just my preferences. An ace is unquestionably the best pitcher in a team's rotation. An ace is overpowering. He may overpower with heat — Gray was throwing 95 mph in the seventh inning. Or an ace can overpower with a curveball or any other pitch.
Clayton Kershaw is God's gift to aces and he has a killer curve Vin Scully calls it Public Enemy Number One.
This dominating pitch makes an ace scary and awe inspiring. An ace has a presence, almost a spiritual aura, certainly a don't-mess-with-me attitude. To help understand ace, think Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Justin Verlander — not so much now — Tim Lincecum, once upon a time.
An ace is different from a staff's best pitcher. The best pitcher may not be an ace.
Right now, Tim Hudson is the Giants' best pitcher. Is he the staff ace? That is to be determined as time goes by.
Right now, the A's Scott Kazmir has six wins, the same as Gray. He may be Oakland's best pitcher. In my gut I don't consider him an ace — I could be wrong — and I'd give the ball to Gray instead of Kazmir in a make-or-break game, although in September when things feel desperate, this might change.
Before the game, I asked Bob Melvin if he has an ace. Melvin was sitting in the dugout for his pregame media session. He sat straight as he always does. His posture is symbolic. Straight shooter. Straight talker. Straight-ahead guy.
"For me an ace is a guy that's been around for a while," Melvin said, "and has moved himself into that position — kind of like a perennial opening-day starter. Sonny has not been around long enough, and I don't want to put that type of pressure on him where we're saying, 'OK, you're our ace.'