The Tigers came together near the mound for a unique chant in which they squatted in unison and raised their hands in the air.
The 93-win Tigers are determined to take the next step and win a championship after being swept in four games of the 2012 World Series by the San Francisco Giants.
The 23-year-old Gray, pitching to chants of “Sonny! Sonny!” in his 12th career start, returned for the sixth inning at 92 pitches but was done once he allowed consecutive singles to Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta. Omar Infante then drove in the third run with a fielder’s choice grounder off Dan Otero.
Along the 880 freeway just outside the Coliseum, a billboard blared: “IT’S ALWAYS SONNY IN THE TOWN.” The only thing sunny was the outfield for the early evening start, which had players shielding their eyes to deal with tricky shadows and sun angles. Center field and right field initially played in bright sun.
Rookie starters have lost their last six winner-take-all postseason games since Daisuke Matsuzaka beat Cleveland in the 2007 ALCS for Boston.
Gray’s curveball had less break and he never found the same groove that carried him in his playoff debut. It was a breezy Bay Area night and 19 degrees cooler at first pitch than the 82 degrees in a game starting an hour later Saturday night.
This marks another disappointing exit for the low-budget A’s, who have baseball’s 27th smallest payroll at $71.1 million after having the lowest at $59.5 million last year.
Both managers tweaked their lineups, most notably in the middle infield with Peralta back at shortstop for Detroit and the A’s Alberto Callaspo playing second base in his first career postseason start.
Peralta, who served a 50-game suspension until late September for his ties to the Biogenesis clinic accused of distributing performance-enhancing drugs, hit a three-run homer in Game 4 to help extend Detroit’s season.