The Oakland A’s lost another home opener and fans are mad at Daric Barton. What else is new?
Barton’s lack of baserunning awareness in the eighth inning wound up being a turning point in the A’s 2-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians in their home opener on Monday night. With runners on first and second with one out and the score tied at 0-0, Josh Donaldson just missed hitting a home run to center. Barton inexplicably went back to tag second base and could only get as far as third after the ball remained in play, giving Donaldson a 400-foot single. Jed Lowrie struck out and Brandon Moss grounded out to end the inning in which they should have scored the go-ahead run.
The Indians took the lead in the ninth, as A’s new closer Jim Johnson struggled in his debut. He loaded the bases with nobody out before allowing a sacrifice fly to Nyjer Morgan and an RBI single to Nick Swisher, and was immediately pulled by manager Bob Melvin. It was quite an inauspicious debut for the man replacing fan-favorite Grant Balfour.
The A’s put two men on with two outs in the ninth against Indians’ closer John Axford, but Nick Punto struck out to end the game.
It was unfortunate that the A’s could not take advantage of a gutty performance by Sonny Gray, who got out of several tough jams unscathed. Gray allowed five hits, three walks, and no runs in six innings pitched, striking out seven. He escaped the fourth inning despite having runners on second and third and nobody out, then pulled another rabbit out of his hat in the sixth. With runners at the corners and one out, Asdrubal Cabrera hit a comebacker, which Gray handled and threw home, where John Jaso tagged out Michael Brantley. The play was then challenged by Terry Francona, who claimed Jaso blocked Brantley’s path to the plate, but the original call was upheld.
Gray finished the evening with 105 pitches — 13 more than Indians’ starter Justin Masterson, who was masterful in his own right. Masterson allowed just three hits in seven innings, and the A’s mounted few legitimate scoring threats with him on the mound.
All in all, the A’s should be somewhat pleased with their pitching, with the exception of Johnson. Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle each pitched dominant innings in relief of Gray. The bigger concern has to be the offense. Their 3-4-5 hitters (Jed Lowrie, Brandon Moss, and Yoenis Cespedes) went a combined 0-for-12, and Lowrie and Moss both left five men on base. Josh Donaldson had the best night offensively, but his two hits with runners in scoring position didn’t plate any runs.
No one wants to start the season 0-1, but for the A’s it has become a formality. Their 10th consecutive opening loss is a major league record, but it really means nothing considering there are still 161 games to play.