The A’s thought they might have an illness making its way around their clubhouse Tuesday. Ace Sonny Gray had been unable to make his Opening Night start Monday because of stomach problems. Pitcher Kendall Graveman had come down with similar symptoms Monday night. Before Tuesday’s game, the A’s held a meeting in the clubhouse about taking preventative measures.
"I’ve had a Purell dispenser in here for years," manager Bob Melvin said, sitting in the A’s dugout. "Now everybody doesn’t think I’m so crazy."
There were no new cases reported Tuesday night -- but a different affliction that has bugged the A’s since last season continued to do so in their 5-4 loss to the White Sox. The A’s were 19-35 last year in one-run games -- the most losses in the majors -- and they have again started this season with a pair of one-run losses.
Tuesday’s was vexing in that the A’s rallied from a two-run deficit in the eighth inning only to see Chicago shortstop Jimmy Rollins, an Oakland native, wrestle the lead back with a home run off of closer Sean Doolittle in the ninth. It was one of two swings that altered the trajectory of the game, the other Todd Frazier’s three-run homer off of Chris Bassitt that gave the White Sox a 3-1 lead in the fifth.
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Doolittle had retired the first two batters in the ninth easily and had two strikes on Rollins when he threw a 94 mph fastball that Rollins hit just over the wall in left-center field.
"I felt like that was the one mistake that I made that inning," Doolittle said.
The mistake was in location. Doolittle had gotten Rollins to swing through a high, inside fastball for strike two on the previous pitch. He tried to go to that spot again, but left the pitch low and over the plate.
"I didn’t execute," Doolittle said. "I felt really good. I had swing and miss stuff tonight. When I had to make a pitch with two outs and two strikes, a tied ball-game in the ninth inning, I didn’t do it.
"It’s really tough to come back in here, a one-run loss again, at home, looking to get a win after a tough loss last night, the guys rally to come back. I’m disgusted with myself."
Bassitt was no happier about his outing despite its mostly hinging on one pitch, an 0-2 curveball in the fifth that Frazier golfed into the left-field bleachers. The White Sox had put two on with one out, but Bassitt struck out the dangerous Jose Abreu swinging on a curveball and was one pitch away from getting out of the inning.
"Boy, if (Frazier) doesn’t catch it a foot in front of the plate, maybe it even bounces," Melvin said. "But (he’s) a guy that does extend."
"He’s one of the best bad-ball hitters in the game," Bassitt said of Frazier. "I have to make a lot worse pitch there than what I did. I gave him a chance and he made me pay."
The A’s received a pair of two-out RBI singles from Lowrie in the third and fifth innings and, down 4-2 in the eighth, loaded the bases on a Josh Reddick infield single and two hit batsmen by Chicago reliever Nate Jones. First baseman Yonder Alonso then lined a first-pitch single to right field for his first hit with the A’s, tying the game.
To that point, an A’s bullpen that was much-maligned in 2015 had thrown nine scoreless innings to begin the season, including an impressive 2 2/3-inning debut by right-hander Liam Hendriks, who entered a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the sixth and induced a double-play grounder from Rollins.
Hendriks stayed in to retire the next six batters, a timely outing after the A’s bullpen had combined for 6 1/3 innings in Monday’s season opener.
"Everybody’s contributed in the bullpen," Melvin said.
Doolittle pitched a scoreless inning in Monday’s opener, showing an enhanced changeup, and needed just five pitches to retire Austin Jackson on a groundout and strike out Adam Eaton for the first two outs in Tuesday’s ninth.
"He threw the ball like he did last night," Melvin said. "Just threw one pitch that Rollins capitalized on."
For the A’s, the margin was all too familiar.