Johnson after rough A’s debut: ‘I would’ve booed me, too’

Published: Monday, Mar. 31, 2014 - 11:56 pm
Last Modified: Tuesday, Apr. 1, 2014 - 12:01 am

OAKLAND -- Jim Johnson straightforwardly acknowledged this was not how he wanted his A’s career and his 2014 season to start. Not with allowing two runs in the ninth inning of a scoreless game and taking the loss in the A’s opener, then departing to scattered but still very audible boos from an announced sellout crowd at the O.co Coliseum.

"I would’ve booed me, too," Johnson said after the A’s dropped their 10th consecutive season opener with a 2-0 decision to the Cleveland Indians. "I sucked today. I’ll admit it. That’s fine. … I expect that. Next time they’re going to probably be cheering."

Johnson, the A’s top offseason acquisition, loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth on a leadoff walk, a single by David Murphy and a hit batter. Nyjer Morgan hit a sacrifice fly to give the Indians a 1-0 lead, and Johnson then allowed an RBI single to Nick Swisher before manager Bob Melvin came out to relieve him.

"The walk just shouldn’t happen," Johnson said. "That kind of put me in a bad spot. Not that I couldn’t get out of it, but it just kind of compounded from there."

Melvin said he didn’t see anything physically wrong with Johnson, but he didn’t want the closer going much deeper into an inning in which he’d already thrown 17 pitches. Melvin also cited the leadoff walk as the root of Johnson’s problems Monday.

"He’s always the type of guy who’s one pitch away from getting a double play ball, but it just didn’t happen for him today," Melvin said. "All of a sudden (the next) ball’s in the hole, it’s first and third. So it just wasn’t his day."

Johnson, as is evident from his first quote here, handled the outing head-on. He also took the opportunity to praise starter Sonny Gray, who threw six scoreless innings in spite of some early control issues in the 24-year-old’s first opening day start. Gray escaped jams in the fourth and sixth innings in which he had runners in scoring position with one or no outs, throwing 105 pitches in six innings.

"That was one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever seen," Johnson said. "That guy wiggled better than anybody today.

"Obviously not the way I really wanted to start the season. But I can’t hang my head on it because I need to come back tomorrow ready to play."

* That the game was tied going into the ninth was the result of an odd Coliseum moment in the bottom of the eighth. With runners on first and second and one out, Josh Donaldson crushed a ball to straightaway center field that Donaldson -- and likely most of the crowd -- thought was headed over the wall.

"I thought it was off the suites," Donaldson said.

Instead, it bounced off the top of the wall -- right near the 400-foot marker -- and back to center fielder Nyjer Morgan. Meanwhile, Daric Barton had retreated to second base to tag up and had to stop at third base as Morgan got the ball in quickly.

Asked about the baserunning on the play, Melvin said: "With nobody out you tag up. With one out, you’re halfway (down the line) so you can score."

In other words, Barton apparently retreated to the bag too early. Donaldson appeared to throw his hands in the air as he rounded first base in frustration, but later said his reaction was merely to the ball not clearing the fence.

"It’s kind of one of those things where you hit a ball probably as good as I can, you want to see the results of that, right?" Donaldson said.

"We make mistakes in this game. I’m sure if it was to go again, it would be handled differently. But this is game one. There’s no panic around here. We’re going to turn the page tomorrow and come out here and try to win a game."

* Gray, who was so unflappable in the second half last year that he hardly seemed to bat an eye facing Justin Verlander twice in the A.L. Division Series, admitted Monday night of the opening day start: "It was a pretty big moment out there."

"Especially in the first inning," said Gray, who walked the first two batters of the game. "I was just coming out of my mechanics a little bit. But I was able to settle down and get out of some big jams, which was the story of the night, really."

For Gray, it certainly was. He became the second starting pitcher in Oakland history to allow no runs in an opening day start, following Tim Hudson in 2003, and made two of the key defensive plays himself on a pair of comebackers in the fourth and sixth innings with a runner on third base.

Gray fielded the fourth-inning comebacker and caught Carlos Santana off third base in a rundown. In the sixth, Asdrubal Cabrera hit a line drive off his leg, which Gray tracked down and threw home to John Jaso in time to tag Michael Brantley sliding into home.

Gray said the liner hit him in the "ankle area," and he was feeling OK but would see if it worsens overnight. As for the outing: "I felt OK," he said. "It was a little uncomfortable at first, was just sporadic with the fastball. But came away feeling pretty well."

* The sixth-inning play initiated the first official replay review in A’s history. After Indians manager Terry Francona came out to argue the call, umpiring crew chief Mike Winters called for a review of whether A’s catcher John Jaso had blocked the plate. Following a minute-long review, the out call was upheld.

"You can challenge the out or safe, but you can’t challenge the blocking of the plate," Melvin explained. "You have to ask for (the umpires) to get together and review it, and that’s what they did. So (Francona) wasn’t charged with a challenge there. There are a lot of plays we’re still figuring out, which plays are challengeable, which plays aren’t."

One that wasn’t -- a close call on a Michael Brantley double in the fourth inning, which appeared to pass directly over the first-base bag. Melvin came out to ask the home plate umpire for a second opinion, but was unable to challenge the play because the fair-foul decision came on a ball in the infield.

Fair-foul calls are challengeable when the ball lands in the outfield, but not the infield, Melvin said. He said that’s likely because the infield call ostensibly occurs in front of the umpire, not requirng him to turn around and make the call.

* Set-up man Luke Gregerson had a markedly more successful A’s debut than Johnson, retiring the side in order in the seventh with two strikeouts. Melvin used Gregerson in the seventh and Sean Doolittle in the eighth but said that was based on righty-lefty matchups and that the two are interchangeable in the late innings.

* The game story gets further into this, but the A’s became the first team in MLB history to lose 10 consecutive season openers. They had been tied at nine with the Atlanta Braves from 1972-80 and the New York Giants from 1893-1901, but now they stand alone.

* The pitching matchup for Game 2 is A’s left-hander Scott Kazmir and Indians righty Cory Kluber. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m., but forecasts call for more rain. So we might be in for another wait-and-see afternoon.


Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.

Read more articles by Matt Kawahara



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