OAKLAND -- – Before Monday, the A’s had taken the field on Opening Day behind eight different starting pitchers in the previous nine seasons with one common result: a loss.
Sonny Gray did his part to snap that streak on a day that went the opposite way – first gray and rainy, then sunny enough at O.co Coliseum for the A’s and Cleveland Indians to start their 2014 opener on time – as the 24-year-old right-hander hurled six scoreless innings despite early issues with command.
But Gray’s night ended with a no-decision, with the A’s equally unable to score against Cleveland starter Justin Masterson. The Indians broke a scoreless tie in the top of the ninth against closer Jim Johnson, who was making his Oakland debut, to hand the A’s a 2-0 loss in front of an announced sellout crowd of 36,067.
The A’s became the first team in major-league history to lose 10 consecutive season openers, and the formula was familiar. Having scored 13 total runs in the previous nine losses, the A’s left nine runners on base and ran their streak of Opening Day innings without a run to 25, dating to March 28, 2012.
Johnson, the A’s top offseason acquisition, loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth on a walk, a David Murphy single and a hit batter before Nyjer Morgan’s sacrifice fly gave the Indians a 1-0 lead. Johnson then allowed an RBI single to Nick Swisher and was relieved by manager Bob Melvin, walking off the field to scattered boos.
“I would’ve booed me, too,” Johnson said. “I sucked today. I’ll admit it. … Next time they’re going to probably be cheering.”
The A’s failed to score in the bottom of the eighth despite Josh Donaldson hitting a ball nearly 400 feet with runners on first and second. Donaldson’s one-out drive bounced off the top of the center-field wall and back into play, but Daric Barton – who led off the inning with a single – stopped at third after waiting to see if the ball would be caught.
“With nobody out, you tag up,” Melvin said. “With one out, you’re halfway (down the baseline) so you can score on that ball.”
Donaldson appeared to throw his hands into the air in frustration as he rounded first base but said his reaction was to the ball not clearing the fence. The A’s still had the bases loaded with one out, but reliever Cody Allen struck out Jed Lowrie and got Brandon Moss to ground out.
“I thought it was off the suites,” Donaldson said. “We make mistakes in this game. I’m sure if it was to go again it would be done differently. But this is game one. There’s no panic around here.”
In his first Opening Day start, Gray battled his command, saying he was “coming out of my mechanics a little bit” early on – but bore down when he needed to. Gray pitched out of a second-and-third, none-out situation in the fourth and a two-on, one-out jam in the sixth, each time helping his cause with a key defensive play.
With one out in the fourth, Gray fielded a comebacker and caught Indians catcher Carlos Santana in a rundown between third base and home. In the sixth, after Michael Brantley doubled with one out and moved to third on Ryan Raburn’s single, Asdrubal Cabrera hit a liner off of Gray, who bounded after the ball and threw home to nab Brantley.
The latter play initiated the first official replay review in A’s history. After Indians manager Terry Francona argued the call, umpiring crew chief Mike Winters called for a review of whether A’s catcher John Jaso blocked the plate. Following a minute-long review, the out call was upheld, and Gray got Murphy to swing over a two-strike curveball for the final out of his night.
Notes – Monday’s exhibition between the Triple-A River Cats and Advanced-A Stockton Ports, in which A’s reliever Ryan Cook was scheduled to pitch, was cancelled. Melvin said Cook was able to throw a simulated inning earlier in the day.
“I didn’t hear the results, but I heard he felt good,” Melvin said of Cook, who is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list Saturday.
• The A’s announced the signing of right-hander Joe Blanton to a minor-league contract and that Blanton will report to Sacramento. Blanton, 33, was granted his release by the Los Angeles Angels last week after posting a 7.08 ERA during spring training. He was the A’s Opening Day starter in 2008.
• Pregame ceremonies included the A’s unveiling 2013 American League West champion signage on the walls in left- and right-center field. Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson threw out the first pitch. Former A’s slugger Jason Giambi, who was added to the Indians’ 40-man roster Sunday and placed on the DL, received mixed boos and applause when introduced.