A’s make it three wins in a row over the Astros with a big 8-4 victory on Saturday

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The scoreboard just kept showing happy news for A’s fans Photo: Charlie O. Mallonee

by Charlie O. Mallonee

Oakland — A’s starting pitcher Chris Bassitt had to throw 31 pitches to get out of the top of the first against the Houston Astros on Saturday afternoon. That usually means two things:

  1. The chances of that starting pitcher being in the game after the fifth inning is almost nil. In fact, a starter who throws that many pitches in the first inning almost never lasts past the fourth inning.
  2. The other fact you can take the bank is that a pitcher who starts a game by throwing that many pitches will finish the game with a no-decision.

Someone forgot to tell Chris Bassitt that he needed to conform to the standards of baseball on Saturday. After that rough first inning, the A’s starter pulled things together in the second inning.

Bassitt was back in hot water in the top the third inning as the Astros scored two runs on three hits. When the inning ended, there were two Houston runners on base which means the inning could have been much worse.

Bassitt’s team members really picked him up in the home half of the third inning. The Athletics put five runs up on the scoreboard to stake their pitcher to a three-run lead. The amazing part of the third inning rally was the fact that the A’s scored those runs without hitting a home run.

Bassitt pitched a scoreless fourth inning and gave up one run to Houston in the fifth inning to make it a  5-3 game in favor of Oakland. The consensus in the press box was that we had seen the last of Bassitt for the day.

The Astros sent their starting pitcher – Rogelio Armenteros – to the showers and sent Chris Denvenski to the mound to face the A’s in the bottom of the fifth inning. Oakland took advantage of a walk, hit-by-pitch, two singles, and a sacrifice fly to put three more runs up on the board. That cleared the way for Bassitt to come back out for the sixth inning.

The first hitter to face Bassitt in the sixth inning was Yuli Gurriel who singled to left field and everyone thought that was going to be all for Bassitt, but Bob Melvin left the right-hander in the game. The next batter – catcher Martin Maldonado – hit a ball on the ground to shortstop Marcus Semien who fielded it and threw to Corban Joseph at second to erase Gurriel. Joseph turned and threw to first to get Maldonado for the double play. Bassitt was able to get Jake Marisnick to pop out to Joseph at second to end the inning.

Bassitt finished his six innings throwing a career-high 116 pitches. In his postgame comments, mangers Bob Melvin said that Bassitt had told him he was ready to go to 120 pitches to get the job done. That is just plain grit and determination.

With the help of his team on offense, the A’s won the game 8-4 and the winning pitcher was Chris Bassitt who now has a record of 9-5 for the season with a 3.61 ERA.

Focus on the A’s (71-52)

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Treinen gets Bregman to fly out to end the seventh inning Photo: Charlie O. Mallonee
  • Chris Bassitt has posted a 2.36 ERA (11 earned runs over 42.0 innings) since the All-Star Break. The win on Saturday was his first victory over the Astros since July 11, 2018.
  • The Astros cannot keep Matt Chapman off base. Chapman went 3-for-3 at the plate in the game and two of the hits were doubles (31). He also walked once and he reached base after being hit by a pitch. Chapman also recorded his 70th RBI when he walked with the bases loaded in the third inning.
  • Matt Olson had a 2-for-4 game with a walk and two RBI (60). The A’s are 56-31 since Olson came off the injury list on May 7.
  • Catcher Josh Phegley made his return to the field by having a 2-for-4 game for his team. He went on the injured list on July 31. Phegley is batting .329 in 31-day games and .205 in 52-night games.
  • Take note of this factoid: this was only the third Oakland victory of the season in which they did not hit a home run. Bob Melvin said after the game that it is important for his team to know they can win without hitting a long ball.

Checking on the Astros (78-46)

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Yordan Alvarez finishes his HR trot in the eighth inning Photo: Charlie O Mallonee
  • Houston’s designated hitter – 6-foot-5, 242 pound – Yordan Alvarez pounded two more home runs on Saturday. He now has 19 home runs and 55 RBI in his first 52 major league games. That is really scary given the rest of the Astros lineup.
  • Michael Brantley (every team wants a hitter like him) extended his hitting streak to 11 games by going 2-for-4 in the game. He has four consecutive multi-hit games and 50 for the season – the most in the American League.
  • Alex Bregman put his 80th RBI of the year in the book today. He joins Devers, Bogaerts, Kepler, and Rosario as players in the American League with 80-plus RBI.

Up next

Without trying to jinx the A’s, they will go for the four-game sweep of the Astros on Sunday 1:07 PM at the Coliseum in what should be an excellent pitching matchup. The Astros will send RHP Zack Greinke to the mound. Greinke is 12-4 on the season with a 2.91 ERA. He was a winner in his last start in Chicago versus the White Sox when he worked 6.0 innings and allowed only two runs in a Houston 6-2 victory.

The A’s will counter with LHP Brett Anderson who is 10-8 with a 3.95 ERA. This will be his 21st start of the season. Anderson was tagged with the loss in his last start on Tuesday in San Francisco against the Giants. He pitched 6.0 innings allowing two runs (earned) off six hits. He walked none and struck out four.

 

 

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Photo/Graphic: @Astros

By Charlie O. Mallonee

Coming home to the Oakland Coliseum has not been a good thing for the Oakland Athletics. After winning 11 consecutive games, the A’s have now lost four games in a row at home. They have also lost a second consecutive series at home.

The first-place Houston Astros downed the A’s 5-1 on Saturday night at the Coliseum behind the “lights out” pitching of Justin Verlander (9-2, 2.27 ERA). The perennial All-Star pitcher worked 8.0-innings allowing just one run (earned) off four hits. Verlander struck out eight Oakland hitters while walking just two.

The A’s only run of the game came in the second inning when Stephen Piscotty hit the first pitch from Verlander over the wall in right field for his seventh home run of the season.

Brett Anderson (6-4, 3.95 ERA) made the start for Oakland. He worked 5.1-innings giving up three runs (all earned) on eight hits. Anderson struck out two and walked two.

The A’s used two relief pitchers in the contest. Yusmeiro Petit pitched 2.2-innings of perfect baseball while striking out two Astros. Joakim Soria closed out the game pitching the ninth inning and giving up two runs off two hits (1 HR).

A’s Spotlight

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Marcus Semien ejected Photo: @Athletics
  • Anderson has allowed five home runs in his last four starts after he gave up just one homer in his previous eight starts.
  • Ramon Laureano recorded his sixth assist of the year on Saturday. The center fielder threw Robinson Chirinos out as he attempted to advance to second base in the fourth inning.
  • Speaking of Laureano, he extended his career-long hitting streak to 14 games when he singled off Verlander in the fifth inning.
  • Marcus Semien was ejected in the fifth inning of the game. It was the first time Semien has been ejected from a game in his career.
  • Stephen Piscotty has possessed the hot bat for the A’s during this homestand. He went 2-for-4 on Saturday and he is batting .417 (10-for-24) with five runs, two doubles, two home runs, and four RBI in the eight games.

Houston Notes

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Graphic: @Astros
  • Justin Verlander passed Cy Young for 21st on the all-time strikeout list (that’s impressive). Verlander is now for tied for the most wins in the Major Leagues with nine victories.
  • Josh Reddick is happy to back in the Coliseum. He has hit home runs in consecutive games for the first time since September 15 and 16, 2018. Reddick is hitting .412 (7-for-17) with three home runs and five RBI in four games in the Coliseum this season.
  • Michael Brantley now leads the MLB in multi-hit games after going 2-for-3 with a walk on Saturday. He has posted 27 multi-hit games. Brantley has recorded 72 hits already this season and is tied for first in the American League.

Up Next

The Astros and A’s will wrap up their series on Sunday at 1:07 PM PDT. Houston will send RHP Gerrit Cole (5-5, 4.04 ERA) to the mound to try and make it a sweep over Oakland. The A’s will counter with RHP Chris Bassitt (3-1, 3.27 ERA) in order to try and stop their losing streak.

Astros use five pitchers to shutout the A’s 6-0 on Saturday night in Houston

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Graphic: @athletics

By Charlie O. Mallonee

The Oakland Athletics (6-6) lost their second consecutive game to the Houston Astros on Saturday as they were shutout by a combination of five Houston pitchers. The managed to pick up six hits off the Astros pitching, but only one of those hits was for extra bases.

Oakland went 0-for-5 with RISP and left a total of nine men on base. They struck out seven times and picked up four walks. It was a classic night where strong pitching dominated professional hitting.

Houston Hurlers

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Wade Miley on the mound Photo: @Astros

Wade Miley made the start for the Astros and worked 5.2-innings. Miley gave up no runs on four hits. He struck out four A’s batters and walked two hitters. Miley threw 95 pitches (56 strikes). He was credited with the win, which was his first for the season.

Will Harris, Josh James, Chris Devenski, and Framber Valdez combined to work 3.1-innings of scoreless relief for the Astros. The four relievers gave up just two hits and walked no Oakland hitters. The relief corps combined for three strikeouts.

Houston Offense (4-5)

Free-agent addition Michael Brantley led the Astros attack with the bat by going 2-for-4 at the plate with two runs scored and two RBI. Brantley hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning which was his second HR of the season.

Yuli Gurriel had a 3-for-4 day with the bat. He added one RBI to his season total.

George Springer went 2-for-4 in the game versus A’s pitching. Springer hit his third home run of the young season off Aaron Brooks in the fifth inning. The round-tripper was a two-run shot.

The Astros scored six runs off 11 hits while leaving six runners on base.

A’s Pitching

Aaron Brooks really struggled in innings four, five and six. Brooks gave up five runs on nine hits. All five runs were earned. Brooks struck out two and walked out one. He also gave up two home runs.

The A’s used three relief pitchers–Yusmeiro Petit, Liam Hendricks, and Ryan Buchter, combined–to work the final three innings. They gave up no runs off just two hits. The relievers walked one and struck out two Astro hitters.

Brooks was charged with the loss – his first of the season. Brooks record is now 1-1 on the year.

Oakland hitting

Stephen Piscotty was the A’s leader with the bat. He went 2-for-3 at the plate and picked up the only Oakland extra-base hit. Piscotty also reached base via a walk.

Khris Davis, Chad Pinder, Kendrys Morales, and Mark Canha each picked up a base hit off Houston pitching.

Unfortunately for A’s fans, the Oakland hitters were unable to put those hits together to produce runs.

BoMel’s Thoughts

Manager Bob Melvin reaction after the game was that his team ran up against some great pitching and that is sometimes just too much to overcome. In other words, tomorrow is another day.

Up Next

The A’s and Astros will wrap up their three-game series on Sunday with a game that is scheduled to begin at 11:10 AM on Sunday morning. RHP Mike Fiers will make his fourth start of the season. His record is 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA.

RHP Brad Peacock will make the start for the Astros. It will be his second start of the season. Peacock is 1-0 with a 1.35 ERA.

A’s crash and burn in the road opener in Cleveland Friday night, losing 10-4

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Matt Olson hit his 19th home run of 2018 in the second inning Photo: @Athletics

By Charlie O. Mallonee

The Oakland Athletics have feasted on the American League Central Division. One of the reasons the A’s record improved so dramatically in late June and early July was their performance versus the AL Central teams.

On Friday night, it looked like that feast would continue as the A’s jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead on home runs by Dustin Fowler in the first inning and Matt Olson in the second inning. Oakland (48-40) appeared ready to make it a short game for Indians starter Carlos Carrasco.

Cleveland (49-37) had a completely different idea about the game. They put a run up on the board in the bottom of the second which started them on a march to victory. The Indians added three more runs to their total in the home half of the third inning to take a 4-2 lead, and they would never relinquish that lead.

The Indians would score six additional runs while the A’s would add two runs to their total. Cleveland won game one 10-4.

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It was a sellout crowd at Progressive Field in Cleveland Photo: @Indians

This game was about hitting

Cleveland

  • The Indians scored their 10 runs on just 10 hits — that’s efficiency.
  • Cleveland recorded 10 hits and struck out just four times. That is not the norm in the days of teams recording more strikeouts than hits.
  • They scored those 10 runs and had only three batters walk.
  • Cleveland went 4-for-10 with runners in scoring position and left just two runners on base.
  • The Indians scored their 10 runs without hitting a home run. Their key weapon was the two-base hit. They hit three doubles in the game
  • Lindor, Brantley, Ramirez, and Encarnacion all had two-hit games. Ramirez and Encarnacion recorded three RBI each.

Oakland

  • The A’s scored their four runs off 11 hits. Only one Oakland batter walked.
  • The A’s hitters also struck out 11 times for a one hit to one strikeout ratio — not unusual this season but not what any manager wants to see from his team.
  • Mark Canha led the Oakland hitting attack going 3-for-4 with an RBI (33). One of his hits was his 14th double of the season.
  • Fowler, Olson, and Semien all had two-hit nights. Fowler also picked up two RBIs.
  • Oakland went 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position and left six men on base.

It was a night of many pitchers

Indians

  • Carlos Carrasco (9-5) made the start for Cleveland and picked up the win. He worked 5.1-innings giving up three runs (all earned) on seven hits. Carrasco struck out seven A’s and walked none. He did allow two home runs.
  • Cleveland used five relief pitchers. Four of them pitched less than an inning.
  • Dan Otero — who pitched for the A’s for three seasons — pitched the final two innings of the game for the Indians.
  • No save was awarded.

Athletics

  • Paul Blackburn started the game for the A’s and worked 4.0 innings. He gave up six runs (five earned) on seven hits. Blackburn struck three and walked one. He was charged with the loss and his record falls to 2-3.
  • Yusmeiro Petit worked 2.0 innings of no-hit baseball. He walked one and struck out one.
  • Emilio Pagan really struggled as he pitched 0.2 innings allowing four runs (all earned) on just three hits.
  • Santiago Casilla came in to close out the seventh inning for Pagan.
  • Chris Hatcher worked a perfect eighth inning for Oakland against the Indians.

Up next

The A’s and Indians will play game two of the three-game series on Saturday at 1:10 pm PDT. The “ageless one” Edwin Jackson (1-0, 2.13) will start for Oakland and the very tough Corey Kluber (12-4, 2.64) will take the hill for the Indians.

Struggling Johnson’s Blown Save Forces A’s Split of Doubleheader

By Matthew Harrington

OAKLAND, Calif. – Oakland Athletics closer Jim Johnson’s rocky start in the Bay Area went from bad to worse Wednesday night at the O.Co Coliseum. For the second time in a three-game series against the Cleveland Indians (2-1), Johnson (0-2, 45.00 ERA) entered the ninth inning with the A’s tied or ahead and coughed up the lead, turning a 4-3 edge into a blown save and ultimately a 6-3 loss to split the day-night doubleheader. Indians reliever Cody Allen (2-0, 0.00 ERA) bookended the series with wins in the first and third games while Jon Axford pitched a perfect ninth for his second save of the season.

“It sucks every time,” said losing pitcher Johnson of blowing the save opportunity. “You have to trust the positives and have to trust the work that you’re doing. I’m going to sleep it off tonight. I’m not going to do anybody any favors hanging my head. These guys need me. These guys have been playing their butts off. We should be 3-0. I’ll take the blame. If I sit here and sulk though, it’s not going to do anybody any good.”

A’s starter Josh Lindblom, called up to start the Wednesday’s second game to keep the rotation on track for the upcoming four-game set against the Seattle Mariners, pitched 4 2/3 innings and left with a 3-2 lead but the Oakland bullpen surrender four runs to drop two-of-three against the visiting Tribe.

“Anytime you lose a game with the lead in the ninth inning it hurts a little bit,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “You have to move on. You have no choice.”

Like in the afternoon game, the A’s (1-2) struck first in their very first at-bats of the game. After Lindblom fired a 1-2-3 inning, center fielder Sam Fuld debuted in style by tripling on a 1-1 McAllister fastball lifted to deep center. Josh Donaldson struck out but Jed Lowrie singled Fuld home for the 1-0 lead. Lowrie moved to second with on a wild pitch with designated hitter Brandon Moss batting. Moss joined Lowrie on the base path working a walk against Indians starter Zach McAllister to put Yoenis Cespedes at the plate with a runner in scoring position. Cespedes plated Lowrie, launching a 1-2 fastball to the corner in right field for a double with right fielder David Murphy’s  vision impaired by the setting Sun.

Cespedes opened the season with critics scrutinizing his long swing that produced a .167 batting average over 60 Spring Training at-bats. The Cuban masher silenced those critics, at least momentarily, going 2-for-5 in game one of the doubleheader then producing the RBI hit in the night cap. Cespedes finished the night cap with a hit in two at-bats paired with a tandem of walks, including one of the intentional variety.

Lindblom found himself in a jam in the third, surrendering a single to ninth-place hitter Lonnie Chisenhall to open the inning then issuing a walk to leadoff man Nyjer Morgan. The righty induced a fly ball off the bat of Nick Swisher and then walked Carlos Santana to load the bases with two outs. Lindblom finished the escape act, forcing a Michael Brantley flyout to leave the three Indians base runners stranded.

The Tribe found the run column an inning later when Asdrubal Cabrera singled sharply to right. Murphy flew out to Fuld but Mike Aviles ripped a 0-1 slider 350 feet over the wall in left for his first home run of the season to pull Cleveland even, 2-2. Lindblom retired the next two hitters.

Fuld again anchored the A’s offensive in the bottom of the fourth by singling home Reddick from second base and moving Nick Punto to third with two outs. Reddick reached base on a one-out single then moved to second on a base-on-balls to second baseman Punto. Fuld stole second, his first pilfering as a member of the A’s, but Donaldson bounced out to Cabrera to end the threat with the A’s leading 3-2 with four innings complete on the scorecard.

“Outstanding,” responded Melvin when asked to judge his replacement center fielder’s performance. “We didn’t want to play Coco (Crisp) both games of the doubleheader. We want to give Coco his days off this season. (Fuld) knows how to play that role. He knows how to get himself ready when he’s on the bench for a few days.”

Lindblom retired the first two batters he faced in the fifth before allowing a first-pitch double to Santana, catching the evening tilt after Yan Gomes did the honors in the afternoon game. Melvin lifted the righty in favor of Drew Pomeranz, a 2010 first-round draft pick (fifth overall) of the Indians. Lindblom, called up from the Sacramento Rivercats as part of the special 26th roster spot allotment for doubleheaders, finished the afternoon with two earned runs surrendered on five hits and a pair of walks and strikeouts respectively. Having only pitched 4 2/3 innings, Lindblom would not have qualified for the five-inning requirement to be named winning pitcher if the score held up.

“He was good,” said Melvin of Lindblom. “It was tough to take him out with 4 2/3 innings. I think he was at 85 pitches, we had a left-left match-up. I thought he kept us in the game. We got to the ninth inning with a lead so he did his job.”

Indians fans recognize Pomeranz as the player to be named later in the deal that sent Ubaldo Jimenez to to Cleveland from the Colorado Rockies for a package that included the 6-foot-5 southpaw. The Rockies later dealt the Memphis, Tenn. native to the A’s for Brett Anderson. The 22 year old, who made the bullpen after a strong spring showing, struggled with four straight balls to Brantley before Reddick nabbed a pop-up off the bat of Cabrera to close the books on the first half of the game.

Marc Rzepczynski replaced McAllister in the bottom of the fifth after the righty surrendered three earned runs on six hits with four walks and four punch-outs over four innings.  The lefty with the consonant-heavy surname held the A’s hitless over the next two innings to keep the deficit at one run.

For the A’s, Pomeranz opened the sixth, getting David Murphy to roll over on one that was handled by Daric Barton at first. Pomeranz then worked a full count after throwing three straight balls to Aviles, but ultimately lost the second baseman on a 4-seamer out of the strike zone.

Melvin and the A’s were on the losing end of a challenge that confirmed an out call on a tag play at home plate in the afternoon, but in the sixth inning Oakland became victim of their first overturned call off the season. Mike Aviles broke for second on an 0-1 delivery with pinch hitter Elliot Johnson at the plate. The throw from Derek Norris, subbed into the game as a pinch hitter in the fifth before taking over for starter John Jaso defensively, beat Aviles to the bag.

It appeared that the swipe tag from Nick Punto was on the mark. After some argument from Aviles, Francona emerged from the first base dugout to argue the call. Replay clearly revealed that Punto had missed the tag by a couple of inches, so the umpiring crew overturned the call after video review from headquarters in New York City and awarded Aviles the steal.

Aviles wound up stranded at second as Pomeranz got Johnson swinging on an 80-mph curveball for the second out, then Luke Gregerson came out of the bullpen to get pinch hitter Ryan Raburn to end the inning on a fly to Cespedes to maintain the one-run gap.

The A’s went down in order in the bottom of the 6th, opening the door for the Indians to tie it in the 7th after Brantley’s RBI ground out brought designated hitter Jason Kipnis in from third base. Kipnis drew a one-out walk, stole second with Santana at the plate then advanced to third when the Indians catcher singled later in the at-bat. Gregerson got Cabrera to line out to Fuld in center to strand Santana in scoring position.

Rzepczynski got Fuld, the lefty’s last batter of the day, to pop out to short to open the bottom of the seventh before giving way to right-hander Bryan Shaw. Josh Donaldson, laboring with a .143 batting average on two hits in 14 plate appearances this season, reached base and advanced to second to welcome Shaw when Brantley flubbed a routine fly in center. Brantley had shifted to center after Raburn pinch hit for Morgan and took over left field and narrowly avoided a collision with Raburn on the play. It was his first error in a franchise-record 247 games, with his last miscue coming June 3rd, 2012 against the Minnesota Twins.

Donaldson jogged to third on a wild pitch past backstop Santana, known more for his bat than defensive prowess behind the dish, but three-spot hitter Lowrie grounded out to a drawn-in second baseman prepared to cut an advancing runner down a home plate. The clean-up hitting lefty Moss, who ended the day 4-for-7, got the job done by rolling a ball into the hole at second with the Indians defense shifted to the right of the diamond. The slow roller got by first baseman Swisher but Aviles was able to scoop it and fire to Shaw racing to cover the bag. Shaw couldn’t close his glove on it with Moss bearing down on him, allowing the leading runner Donaldson to cross the plate with Oakland now up 4-3.

Sean Doolittle, a candidate to replace Johnson at closer should the offseason acquisition continue to struggle, pitched a perfect eighth inning. He now has pitched two innings this season, collecting three strikeouts and no hits along the way.

Francona lifted Shaw after 2/3 of an inning and an unearned run in favor of Monday’s winner Allen to open the eight. Allen retired the side in order to keep Cleveland within one run with the beleaguered Johnson loosening in the pen. Johnson took the mound showered by a hail of boos, with Monday night’s two-hit, two-walk, two-run performance fresh in A’s fan’s minds.

“He’s been around long enough,” said Melvin. “He’s had some ups and downs. It’s unfortunate. When you’re with a new team you want to get off to a good start. That’s tough on him, but we have to be behind him, we have to support him. He’s going to get better.”

Again Johnson failed to retire the first two batters he faced, giving up consecutive singles on two-seam fastballs to Raburn and Swisher. Kipnis bounced into a fielder’s choice with Raburn moving to third and Swisher out at second. With Santana at the plate, Kipnis stole second without a throw from Norris. Santana worked a five-pitch walk off Johnson, who also was roughed up in spring training to the tune of five runs in nine spring innings, loading the bases for Brantley.

“A lot of veteran guys don’t have a good spring,” said Melvin. “The velocity’s there, some of the movement’s there, maybe not as consistently as he’d like it. He’s been up in the zone a little bit more than he’d like.”

Brantley hit a first-pitch changeup, a sinking liner to right that bounced in front of Reddick. Reddick couldn’t field it cleanly with Raburn and Kipnis coming home and Brantley winding up on second with a two-RBI single and Cleveland’s first lead in 17+ innings of play Wednesday. Melvin had Johnson, usually an efficient groundball pitcher, set up the force play by issuing an intentional walk to Cabrera. David Murphy foiled the plans, hitting a sacrifice fly to Fuld to bring Santana home. Melvin called on reliever Even Scribner to mop things up in his first appearance of the season. Scribner got Mike Aviles to float one that Fuld gloved easily, limiting the damage to three runs and a blown save for Johnson.

Axford pitched a 12-pitch ninth, overpowering Fuld with a third-strike fastball before coaxing Donaldson and Lowrie to pop out, handing Cleveland a split of the twin bill and a 2-1 series win. Johnson ended up on the losing end, extended a streak of winless appearances against the Indians. Johnson is 0-7 against the Indians in his career. Though Melvin was coy about any shattered confidence he has in his $10 million closer, he did rule Johnson out for game one of a four-game set against visiting Seattle starting Thursday night. The Mariners come to town buoyed by a three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Angels, their best start to a season since the Ken Griffey Jr.-Jay Buhner-Edgar Martinez era.

“You know what, it’s been two games,” said Melvin after being asked if the thought of unseating Johnson at closer had crossed his mind. “Potentially because of the pitches he threw tonight (29 pitches), as far as tomorrow that’s tough. We traded for him for a reason. He has a terrific track record.”

 

Opening Day A House of Horrors Once Again as Athletics Make History For Wrong Reasons

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By Matthew Harrington

OAKLAND, Calif. – San Francisco owns the rights to baseball torture, but over in the East Bay seamheads suffer from a case of downright misery every opening day. While Opening Day arrives on a stream of promise crested by the red, white and blue bunting of the occasion du jour, the wave of excitement came crashing down on the Oakland Athletics (0-1) with the brutal reality of a 2-0 night loss to the visiting Cleveland Indians (1-0) With Monday night’s loss at O.Co Coliseum marking the club’s 10th-straight loss in a season’s first game, the A’s etched themselves forever in dubious MLB history, breaking the record for most consecutive losses in a row on Opening Day.

“You don’t talk about it,” said A’s start Sonny Gray. “You know it’s here, going around.”

Gray dug deep to produce a six-inning, zero-run effort but a ninth inning struggle by new Oakland closer Jim Johnson (0-1) yielded two Tribe runs to be saddled with the loss. Indians closer Jon Axford, called upon by the Brewers last season for ninth-inning duties, likewise sputtered in the ninth but kept the home team from crossing the plate to pick up his first save of the season.

Justin Masterson, a 2013 All-Star for the Indians, pitched an effective seven inning surrendering only three hits and a lone walk while striking out four. He departed the game with a no decision. Tribe reliever Cody Allen (1-0) was tabbed the winning pitcher after producing the final two outs of the eighth inning with the bases loaded.

Gray, who received opener honors for the reigning two-time American League West champions after injuries to rotation mates Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin forced the A’s to scramble for back-up plans, performed like a true ace despite entering play with only one season and 64 innings of major league service time.

In the first of what will be many Opening Day nods for the 24-year-old, Gray struggled with command early, walking the first two batter he faced before striking out Jason Kipnis and inducing ground balls from Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley in a 29-pitch inning. Despite lacking a feel for his pitches and precision control, Gray performed like a savvy veteran, getting the outs when needed. In total, Gray stranded seven Tribe base runners while racking up seven K’s, five hits and three walks on 105 pitches on a night when the threat of a postponement due to rain loomed.

“You always want to prepare as if you’re going to play,” said Gray. “We felt coming in that the rain was going to be clearing up. There was a little bit in the afternoon, but that was it.”

Gray didn’t just excel with the arm on the soggy Monday night, he also did it with the glove on multiple occasions. After Santana opened the top of the fourth with a walk, Brantley advanced him to third on a double to right. With a pair of runners in scoring position and no outs, Gray got Indians designated hitter Ryan Raburn out on strikes before fielding a grounder up the middle off the bat of Asdrubal Cabrera. Gray caught Santana stranded between third and home plate and slung the ball to A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson for the fielder’s choice. He then induced a David Murphy ground out to wriggle out of trouble.

“He was a little off-kilter early,” said manager Bob Melvin. “He worked his way through it though. With the number of pitches he had in the first inning, we didn’t think he would go six innings. He recovered well and he fought.”

Two innings later, Gray’s fielding prowess would be tested again. After getting Santana to fly out to first baseman Daric Barton in foul territory, a double by Brantley and a bloop single by Raburn put runners on the corners with only one gone in the inning. Cabrera once again smoked a ball up the middle that Gray took off his trailing leg then barehanded and fired home in time for Jaso to make the tag on Brantley.

“That was one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever seen,” said Johnson. “I’ve never seen anybody wiggle like that out of trouble.”

Two occurrences that wouldn’t have been possibilities last season occurred on the play. With a new rule banning collisions at home plate on bang-bang plays being instated this season, Cleveland bench boss Terry Francona came out to argue that Jaso had not granted Brantley a clear path to home plate. He attempted to use his coach’s challenge, another new rule implemented this season, to send the play to video review at the MLB war room in New York City. After crew chief Mike Winters conferred with his umpiring crew and the review booth, the ruling was confirmed. Francona, however, was not charged with use of a challenge as the play itself could not be reviewed.

“You can’t challenge the play, you can only challenge if he’s out or safe,” explained Melvin. “As far as blocking the plate, you have to just ask for them to get together and review it. That’s what they did, so (Francona) wasn’t charged with a challenge. There’s still a lot of plays where we’re trying to figure out if we can challenge them.”

The A’s received two innings of lights-out relief in the seventh and eighth innings from new addition Luke Gregerson and last year’s relief corps stalwart Sean Doolittle, giving Oakland a chance to break the shutout in the bottom of the eighth and stand three outs away from reversing the trend of Opening Day defeats.

Masterson was lifted for lefty Marc Rzepczynski, who surrendered a single to Barton before coaxing pinch-hitter Nick Punto to pop out to right on a first-pitch hack for the first out of the inning. Francona went to the pen to match righty Cody Allen with the switch-hitting leadoff man Coco Crisp and righty Donaldson. Allen lost Crisp on a full-count pitch to walk the center fielder and move Barton into scoring position.

Donaldson, who finished fourth in the American League Most Valuable Player voting last season, crushed a 2-2 offering from Allen to deep center, caroming off the very top of the padding above the 400-foot marker. Barton, however, delayed to tag up on second base in case the ball was caught, and failed to score, holding up at third base. Shortstop Jed Lowrie struck out and Brandon Moss grounded out leave the bases loaded. In total, the A’s stranded nine baserunners.

Johnson took the mound in the ninth looking to preserve the shutout. The righty, replacement for fireballing Grant Balfour, came over in the offseason along with a $10 million contract from Baltimore for second baseman Jemile Weeks to take over ninth-inning duties for the former All-Star. Johnson, unlike Balfour, pitches less for the strikeout and more to induce contact, something he excelled at in leading the majors in saves in each of the last two seasons.

“He’s the type of guy who is always one pitch away from a double play ball,” said Melvin of Johnson. “It’s just didn’t happen for him today.”

Monday would not be as fortuitous for Johnson, who walked Cabrera to open the ninth, then hung a pitch at the waist to Murphy who singled the mistake into right. Johnson then pushed catcher Yan Gomes to a 2-2 count but plunked the backstop on a pitch inside to load the bases.

Nyjer Morgan, who made the Indians after an injury forced starting center fielder Michael Bourn to the disabled list, plated Cabrera on a lofting sacrifice fly to Coco Crisp to make it 1-0. Former Athletic Nick Swisher, greeted with a cacophony of jeers to start every at-bat, singled sharply to center to push across the second and final Indian run and chase Johnson amid a chorus of boos in favor of Fernando Abad. Abad k’d Kipnis swinging then got Santana to bounce one that Donaldson fielded to end.

“I would have booed me too,” said Johnson after the game. “I deserved it. Hopefully they’ll be cheering for me next time.”

The A’s opened the ninth with a John Jaso walk sandwiched between a Yoenis Cespedes flyout and Josh Reddick strikeout. In total, the A’s 3-through-7 hitter went a combined 0-for-19 with one walk and one hit both courtesy of Jaso. Jaso advanced to second on a wild pitch from Axford with Barton, who ultimately drew a walk, batting. Nick Punto struck out swinging to end the game and mar the A’s chances at a perfect 162-0 season.

Tuesday brings a chance at redemption with free-agent signee Scott Kazmir taking the bump for the green and gold. The southpaw will be opposed by Indians hurler Corey Kluber.

A’s bounce back with unconventional lineup

By Morris Phillips

PhotoSunday afternoon wasn’t like Saturday night for the Oakland A’s.

The A’s shed their recent struggles and produced a solid, all-around effort in beating the Indians, 7-3, to capture the weekend series and move closer to Texas in the AL West.

Tommy Milone returned from the minors and pitched effectively into the fifth inning and left with the game tied at 3. From that point, the Oakland offense and the bullpen handled the rest. Chris Young and Alberto Callaspo homered in the bottom of the fifth to break the tie and A’s relievers kept the Indians scoreless over the final 4 1/3 innings.

“That’s when we’re at our best, when we have equal parts and we can trust everybody up and down the lineup. That’s been our key offensively,” Jed Lowrie said of the fifth inning surge in which the A’s number six and eight hitters went yard.

The A’s left the Coliseum in a haze Saturday night having accumulated just three hits in a 7-1 loss that dropped them below .500 since the All Star break. The lack of offense stands as the biggest reason for the second half slump but on Sunday the A’s banged out 12 hits and saw good swinging bats up and down the lineup. Five A’s had multiple hits including Callaspo who was 3 for 4.

Manager Bob Melvin shook up his lineup for the series finale with Lowrie and Derek Norris at the top the lineup and Nate Freiman spelling Brandon Moss and hitting fifth. Unconventional? Absolutely, but it worked right down to the hits, the mid-game rally and in the absence of a big game from cleanup hitter Yoenis Cespedes who was 0 for 5 with two strikeouts.

Cespedes made his contribution defensively by throwing out Nick Swisher trying to stretch a single into a double in the seventh. Young made a spectacular catch in the eighth that kept Michael Brantley from getting extra bases.

Scott Kazmir started for Cleveland after an eight-day break and struggled. Kazmir allowed 10 hits and five runs, including both homers in the fifth, and took the loss. Kazmir has resurrected his career in 2013 but the Coliseum brings out the worst in the former Rays’ ace. Kazmir allowed two home runs equaling his home runs allowed over his previous nine starts. On July 10, 2010 Kazmir allowed 11 hits and 13 earned runs in a not-so-memorable start for the Angels at the Coliseum.

The A’s are a half-game out of first place and a half-game behind Tampa Bay in the wild card hunt with 39 games to play. Oakland continues their home stand Monday with the Mariners visiting.