Programming note: Coverage of Indians-A's starts tonight at 6:30 on Comcast SportsNet California with A's Pregame Live.
OAKLAND – So often the A’s have pulled out games like Monday night’s, where they pitch well, struggle to hit, but then muster just enough magic for a pie-throwing celebration.
Not to be in a 2-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians, their Major League-record 10th consecutive loss to open a season.
It’s not the 0-1 record that should leave a bad taste in the mouth. The A’s have turned in a collection of clunkers in recent season openers. Rather, it’s the storyline of how they lost that can’t become a theme.
Closer Jim Johnson was acquired from Baltimore in the offseason to deliver clean, drama-free ninth innings. His first Oakland outing couldn’t have gone worse as he allowed the game’s only two runs and left to boos from a sold-out Coliseum crowd ringing in his ears.
His performance in front of reporters was better than his performance on the mound.
“I would have booed me too,” Johnson said in front of his locker. “I sucked today. I deserved it, and I expect that. Next time they’ll probably be cheering.”
The ninth inning was only part of the story, because the A’s should have been in the lead entering that frame. A glaring baserunning error by Daric Barton kept them off the board in the bottom of the eighth. There were runners on first and second with one out when Josh Donaldson drilled a liner off the top of the center field wall.
Barton was anchored to second base, ready to tag up. So when the ball bounced off the wall directly to Indians center fielder Nyjer Morgan, Barton could only advance to third.
Jed Lowrie and Brandon Moss both came up empty in trying to advance him the final 90 feet.
A’s manager Bob Melvin didn’t sugarcoat the mistake after the game.
“With nobody out, you tag up,” Melvin said. “With one out, you’re halfway (to third) so you can score on that ball.”
Donaldson’s body language when he reached first base suggested he was ticked at Barton. Asked about the play afterward, Donaldson downplayed it, saying his frustration revolved around a ball he thought would hit “off the suites.”
“I’m not frustrated with Barton, I was more frustrated that it didn’t get out” he said. “When you hit a ball probably as good as you can, you wanna see the results of that, right?”
Then he added in refernce to Barton’s baserunning: “I’m sure if it was to go again, it would be handled differently.”
The ingredients were there to send the large home crowd home happy. An inspiring starting effort from Gray, who had fans buzzing with his Houdini efforts to escape jams. He became just the second Oakland pitcher to allow no runs in an Opening Day start (Tim Hudson did it in 2003).
There were great defensive plays, including a couple turned in by Gray himself.
The big hit never came, nor did the clutch performance by the new A’s closer, who has a tough act to follow after the departure of fan favorite Grant Balfour.
It wasn’t the ending the A’s wanted, but it’s only one out of 162. Melvin and his club will toss out Monday’s script and hope it doesn’t re-appear again.