OAKLAND – Something about Opening Night just doesn’t suit the Oakland A’s.
They were dealt a 2-0 defeat Monday by the Cleveland Indians that was flat-out hard to swallow for a sellout crowd that showed up despite heavy rain most of the day. The A’s have now lost 10 straight regular-season openers, which sets a new Major League record for consecutive openers dropped.
It was a scoreless game until Oakland closer Jim Johnson, in his first game with the A’s, gave up two runs in the top of the ninth while recording just one out. The home team got a gutsy six-inning effort from starter Sonny Gray, but Oakland couldn’t break through against Cleveland right-hander Justin Masterson and three relievers.
The A’s got some great defense. Until the ninth they had good enough pitching. But they didn’t hit enough and bumbled a couple of prime scoring opportunties in the later innings.
It left them with a bitter taste once again on Opening Night.
Starting pitching report
Gray tossed six scoreless innings but it didn’t come easy, and that’s what made it so impressive. He labored through a 29-pitch first inning but didn’t allow a run. Then Gray put runners on second and third with no outs in the fourth and denied the Tribe again. In the sixth, he faced runners on the corners with one out but made a terrific play on a comebacker to get an out at home on a controversial play. With a boisterous crowd waving gold towels, Gray struck out David Murphy to end that threat and pumped his fists walking off the mound. All told he gave up five hits, struck out seven and walked three.
Luke Gregerson relieved Gray in the seventh and didn’t miss the strike zone in nine pitches. Sean Doolittle buzzed through a scoreless eighth. Then Johnson had an A’s debut he’d rather forget. He gave up two hits, walked a batter and hit another, and he left to a chorus of boos as the Indians broke a scoreless tie and went up 2-0.
At the plate
The A’s mustered just five hits but had two golden scoring opportunities and came up empty. In the sixth, they had runners on second and third with one out. Jed Lowrie lined a ball right off Masterson, who fielded it, held the runners and got the out at first. Brandon Moss flied out to end the rally.
Their eighth-inning miss was more excruciating. With runners on first and second and one out, Josh Donaldson smoked a ball off the top of the center field wall. Daric Barton was tagging at second, and when Nyjer Morgan fielded the ball quickly off the wall and threw it in, Barton could only get to third and Donaldson had a 399-foot single. Lowrie struck out, Moss grounded out and the A’s came up empty.
In the field
Where to begin? The top of the sixth had a lot going on defensively for Oakland. With runners on the corners and one out, Gray took a comebacker off the leg, ran it down and threw home to John Jaso, who put the tag on Michael Brantley for the out. Indians manager Terry Francona argued that Jaso blocked the plate. Then it went to an instant replay review, as two new MLB rules merged in one semi-glorious moment. The call stood, Brantley was out, and then Gray struck out David Murphy to end the threat.
Daric Barton made a couple impressive plays at first base for the A’s. Second baseman Eric Sogard made a nifty backhand stop that made up for an errant flip on a potential double play in the first.
It was an announced sellout of 36,067. Though there were lots of empty seats at first pitch, many of them filled and it was an impressive turnout on such a nasty weather day.
Scott Kazmir (10-9, 4.04 last season) makes his first start as an Athletic when he opposes Corey Kluber (11-5, 3.85) in a 7:05 p.m. contest Tuesday.