– As closer Jim Johnson entered from the A’s bullpen to pitch the ninth inning Sunday, he heard none of the boos that had accompanied him off the Coliseum mound in his first two appearances in Oakland. Nor did they appear after Johnson issued a leadoff walk and one-out single to bring the tying run to the plate with A’s leading the Seattle Mariners, 6-3.
This time, he kept them entirely at bay. Johnson, who took the loss in each of his first two outings, struck out Mike Zunino and Abraham Almonte -- both looking at curveballs -- to record his first save of the season and as a member of the A’s.
Johnson did pitch a scoreless inning in the A’s 3-1 loss on Saturday, but manager Bob Melvin had said the closer was anxious to get into a game in a save situation. After he walked Kyle Seager leading off the ninth, Dustin Ackley flew out to the warning track in center field and Michael Saunders singled sharply past a diving Daric Barton into right field. But Johnson recovered nicely, freezing Zunino and Almonte to send the A’s into their nine-game road trip on a high note.
"(He) had a good sinker, had a good breaking ball, used his changeup," Melvin said. "I’m not sure if yesterday relaxed him or whatever, probably a split camp on that, but I know he wanted to get back out there in a save situation and got it today and got the save."
Not that the A’s were expressing panic over Johnson’s early outings, but it had to be a settling kind of feeling to see Johnson -- who blew nine saves last season and converted 50 chances -- record his first, even though it wasn’t entirely smooth. It gave the A’s a split of their six-game homestand to open the season -- not ideal, Melvin said, but considering it included two postponements, a split doubleheader, a blown ninth-inning lead and facing Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, not as bad as it could have been.
"We’re excited to come out of here with a win and win the series," second baseman Eric Sogard said. "It was a crazy first home series, not being able to get on the field for BP (beyond) one day. So we’re excited to get three wins out of it and get on the road."
Early on the A’s certainly looked like a team out of sync. Coco Crisp, usually the savvy veteran, was caught making a lazy throw in from center field on a third-inning hit from Robinson Cano, who stretched what should have been a single into a double. The A’s saw a potential rally end in the second when Yoenis Cespedes was picked off trying to steal third in a two-on, no-out situation.
Several players cited Brandon Moss’ three-run home run in the third, which tied the game at 3-3, as snapping the dugout back into it. Before that, Melvin said, the A’s were "really sloppy."
"We don’t typically play like that. So whether it was the days of no BP, not being on the field, it’s no excuse to not have some focus early on and it looked like that (was the case). So I’m glad we came back and played a much better game the second half of the game."
A Daric Barton error helped the Mariners score twice in the second inning, so only one of the runs Gray allowed was earned. Still, he needed help getting out of the second from right fielder Sam Fuld, who threw Almonte out going from first to third on Nick Miller’s two-out single to strand Robinson Cano in the on-deck circle and prevent more potential damage in the inning.
Gray said he met with pitching coach Curt Young and catcher John Jaso after the second inning and "tried to just make adjustments. I kept missing outside, so we just made adjustments and went a little bit more middle of the plate and let the ball work for me."
Gray said Moss’ homer in the third helped "jump-start me into trying to get deeper into the game." He also credited Fuld with making a play he described as a "sigh of relief."
Melvin didn’t bite at that question again after Sunday’s game, saying only that "it’s going to be a difficult situation all around." Fuld, meanwhile, said: "I just can control what I can control. Anytime you get an opportunity to play, you just try to make the most of it. And if it means that makes the decision hard, then so be it."
"But we were grinding out at-bats and that’s what we did last year," Moss said. "We’re never really out of it. We’re always a swing away. We just work through at-bats, try to get guys on, and if the right guy runs into one, it’s a tie ballgame."
One interesting note, though -- Melvin went with Luke Gregerson in the seventh inning, presumably because Cano was due up fifth and wouldn’t bat until the eighth. Still, after Gregerson allowed a leadoff double, Melvin didn’t get anybody up behind him in the bullpen. Gregerson got Miller to fly out to end the inning and leave Cano in the on-deck circle, but had the inning gone on, it appeared Melvin would have left the right-hander Gregerson in to face Cano.
"That was a tweener," Melvin said. "So that was one me. I knew we had a couple innings left before we got past the sixth, so I thought why not?
"Again, I thought he was safe. But it’s becoming more and more apparent it’s really going to have to be obvious or potentially they won’t overturn it."