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Saturday, October 5, 2013
Updated: October 6, 9:33 AM ET
And the A's hero is … Stephen Vogt?

By Jim Caple
ESPN.com

OAKLAND -- This is the big question as the Athletics and Tigers fly to Detroit with their division series tied 1-1: Who will play Stephen Vogt in the "Moneyball" sequel?

I mean, Vogt is the natural candidate for a major role in the movie. Few players epitomize the entire Athletics economic approach to building a team better than the soon-to-be 29-year-old catcher. Vogt played six seasons in the minors before reaching the big leagues with the Tampa Bay Rays last summer -- and then went hitless in 25 at-bats spread out over four months.

Stephen Vogt
To the victor -- Stephen Vogt, in this case -- goes the shaving cream pie.

With a lifetime average of .000 (his WAR was not very good, either), he was designated for assignment by the Rays at the start of the year. While other players were beginning the season, Vogt was walking through a shopping mall in -- where else? -- Durham, N.C., wondering if, like Crash Davis, his baseball career was over. Then his cell phone rang and he learned that the Oakland Athletics had just purchased his contract for $150,000.

Jump ahead six months, and the Athletics were mashing a cream pie in Vogt's face and dumping a jug of Gatorade over his body as ESPN prepared to interview him on TV. He not only had caught nine scoreless innings -- eight by rookie Sonny Gray – but Vogt also ended the game by singling home the winning run in Oakland's wonderfully tense 1-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers at the Coliseum.

Is baseball great or what?

"It was a fun game to have a front seat to," Vogt said.

Asked what had been the previous biggest moment of his baseball career, Vogt thought about it briefly and then replied, "Maybe my first hit in the big leagues after 32 at-bats."

That first hit after 32 at-bats, by the way, was a home run.

Somewhere, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is shaking his head and saying, "Forget it. No one would ever believe that in a movie."

Justin Verlander
Verlander was typically spectacular. But a long at-bat by Vogt finally did him in.

But if you want cinematic moments, consider Saturday's first deliciously tense eight innings, which featured a classic duel between a promising young rookie and a dominant veteran.

The fifth rookie to start Oakland's past seven postseason games, Gray had pitched 12 games in the majors, totaling 64 innings. His mound counterpart for the Tigers, Justin Verlander, had pitched 266 games and 1,772 innings. Which is fitting because that generally reflects the way these two teams are built: Oakland on cheap, young talent and the Tigers on more expensive, award-winning veterans.

Mixing his fastball, curve and effective sinker, Gray allowed just four hits -- three of them infield singles -- and struck out nine batters. Verlander also had a great fastball and devastating curveball, giving up four hits and striking out 11.

"Sonny did one heck of a job," Verlander said. "He was able to use his angst and energy for a positive; and for a lot of young guys, it works. That's why veterans usually seem to do better in postseason pressure. He handled himself like a veteran and it was impressive."

"Sonny Gray is as cool as his name," Vogt said. "Sonny. Sonny Gray. You can't say it enough."

Since we might be hearing that name quite a bit in the future, let's devote some time to Vogt, who might never have a bigger game than his on Saturday night. In addition to the game-winning single, Vogt also threw out Jose Iglesias trying to steal second base for a crucial inning-ending strike-him-out/throw-him-out double play in the fifth.

"That was huge," Gray said.

Vogt also had a 10-pitch at-bat against Verlander in the seventh. He wound up striking out, but not before fouling off seven pitches and running up Verlander's pitch count high enough that the pitcher said, "That put the nail in the coffin."

That was it for Verlander; and the Athletics finally got through to Detroit's bullpen, loading the bases in the ninth. With both the infield and outfield drawn in, Vogt lined a pitch off Rick Porcello into left field to score Yoenis Cespedes and win the game.

Sonny Gray
Sonny Gray matched the master, Justin Verlander, pitch for pitch.

And to think, that hit came just six months after Vogt was in Durham wondering if he might be headed for a career at Sears selling Lady Kenmores.

"I was trying to take my mind off the Designated for Assignment limbo," Vogt said of that early April day. "I was just wandering through the mall. I was not shopping at all. I was with my daughter and my wife and I got the call that we were traded."

The Athletics paid about what A-Rod makes in a single day for Vogt's contract. Buying up players other teams no longer want, general manager Billy Beane said, is "our version of free agency. That's when I get to be like Steinbrenner."

Vogt started at Class AAA Sacramento before getting called up when catchers John Jaso and Derek Norris both were injured. He batted .252 with four home runs, 16 RBIs and 18 runs in 47 games during the season, and has started each of the division series games.

"I don't really care how much I was traded for. I was just happy to have a job," Vogt said. "I've had a long journey to the big leagues and had a lot of bumps in the road. In the end, I don't care if I was traded for peanuts. I just want to have a job, to keep playing and having fun."

And as he does, I'm thinking maybe Jake Gyllenhall might want to work on his squats.