OAKLAND – It was the image the Oakland A’s had in mind when they traded for Jim Johnson: The big right-hander walking off the mound receiving congratulations from his teammates after salting away a victory. The A’s new closer notched his first save in Green and Gold on Sunday, nailing down a 6-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners to close out Oakland’s season-opening homestand.
Johnson put two runners on base with a walk and a single, but then rang up Mike Zunino and Abraham Almonte looking on strikeouts to close out the game.
The crowd of 32,852 gave him a nice ovation when he entered, then erupted in applause as he recorded the final out. That was in contrast to his first two outings, when Johnson was booed as he took losses in both outings.
The A’s took two of three from the Mariners and finished 3-3 on the homestand as they hit the road for the first time in 2014.
Starting pitching report
Sonny Gray stumbled out of the blocks for the second straight start. He walked two in a scoreless first, but was hit hard for three hits and two runs in the second. He went six innings and allowed three runs (just one was earned) on six hits with three strikeouts. The young right-hander hasn’t found his form yet but still gave Melvin six innings and picked up his first victory of the season.
Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle did solid work in getting Johnson the ball in the ninth for a save opportunity.
At the plate
The A’s haven’t been an overpowering offensive force during their first homestand. So Melvin had to be euphoric to see two of his biggest boppers – Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedes -- each notch their first homers of the season. Moss connected on a three-run shot in the third that tied the game 3-3. Cespedes, who earlier in the game killed a rally when he was caught in a rundown trying to steal third base, blasted a solo shot to right-center in the eighth to give Oakland a 6-3 cushion. It’s been a mixed bag for Cespedes at the plate. He’s alternating between strikeouts that reflect the Cespedes of 2013, and opposite-field hitting that suggests good things might be in store.
In the field
Lots of good for the A’s in this area, but the defense wasn’t mistake-free either. Second baseman Eric Sogard showed excellent range on a couple plays going to his right and left for a couple plays, and he also turned a line-drive double play to help Gray.
Sam Fuld, drawing a start in right field, turned in two more highlight-worthy plays. He delivered a laser to third base to nail Abraham Almonte, who tried to go first to third on Brad Miller’s single. Josh Donaldson did well handling the short-hop throw and applying the tag. In the eighth, Fuld raced over into the gap and made an extraordinary diving catch to rob Logan Morrison.
But the Mariners’ two-run rally in the second was aided by an error from first baseman Daric Barton, who mishandled the ball while trying to throw to second for a force-out. And center fielder Coco Crisp was caught off guard in the third when he nonchalantly fielded Robinson Cano’s single and Cano hustled out a double.
A crowd of 32,852 showed up on Little League Day, and there was non-stop volume thanks to the whistles handed out as fan giveaways. Not a bad day to be in an enclosed press box.
The A’s hit the road for the first time with a three-city, nine-game trek that begins in Minnesota. Scott Kazmir (1-0, 0.00) matches up against Kevin Correia (0-0, 3.00) in the Twins’ home opener Monday at 1:10 p.m. After a day off, Jesse Chavez (0-0, 1.50) and Phil Hughes (0-0, 7.20) square off Wednesday at 10:10 a.m. Dan Straily (0-1, 4.50) opposes Mike Pelfrey (0-1, 5.06) in Thursday’s 10:10 a.m. finale.