Here is a link to my column about the A’s home opener. The full column runs below:
OAKLAND — Opening night is special in baseball. In fact, it’s baseball’s specialty — opening night or opening day.
Every other sport has a mere first game. Baseball has opening night. Nothing mere about that. You think of opening a book, or opening a Broadway play, or opening a new chapter of baseball. You think of openings and not closings, and you get all poetic and you feel life is good.
Except the A’s opening night didn’t feel like opening night. It rained so hard and so long you expected Noah, his beard long and wet, God’s commandments fresh in his ear, to sail his ark in from center field. At 4:30 in the afternoon, the sky was so dark it looked the world was ending. Twenty or more workers in rain slickers, workers with brooms, were sweeping oceans of water off the clear tarp covering the infield, guiding the water to the outfield where it sank into the turf, where green trucks with rear rotors pushed down the water into the grass.
It was an opening night without baseball sights and sounds. No batting practice. No crack of bat on ball. No fielders playing catch. It was an odd prelude to Baseball 2014. And then the sky cleared and the East Bay night was beautiful, and baseball, without the usual preamble, began.
A’s manager Bob Melvin had been edgy all day. He’s edgy every opening night.
“Any time it’s the first game of the season, it’s an added excitement,” he said during the rain. “It’s not my favorite day of the year. I get a little anxious with it.”
He felt more edgy when his opening-night starter Sonny Gray got to work. Gray was a fill-in for Jarrod Parker, out with his second Tommy John surgery, Parker walking quietly around the clubhouse, almost anonymous, his right arm in a sling.
Gray, 24, with less than a year’s experience in the big leagues, walked along a precipice for six innings. Think of a crazy man walking the wild, awe-inspiring north Sonoma Coast in a rainstorm. One foot kept slipping over the edge, shale, rocks and dirt falling into the abyss below, the sound hollow. But Gray, who, among other things, put runners on first and second with nobody out in the top of the fourth, kept pulling himself back from the edge, pulled himself upright, walked into the wind.
He gave up no runs even though he was without fastball and played it cute with little breaking balls.
After that, the A’s bullpen took over. I won’t even get into the challenged call at the plate in the sixth inning, the umpires wanting to know if A’s catcher John Jaso blocked the plate illegally on Indians’ base runner Michael Brantley, the crew chief standing in foul territory on the horn to New York. (“Operator, get me Major League headquarters and step on it.”) This replay thing is going to be an ongoing dilemma. Ditto for plays at the plate.
I’ll skip all that in favor of the A’s bullpen. Talk about an ongoing story. The A’s have the best pen in the business. The A’s starters throw 100 pitches, give or take, and then the monsters come in. The scary guys. Just get the game to them and all is well.
Luke Gregerson, making his A’s debut, worked the top of the seventh. Struck out two. Blew batters away. No runs. Sean Doolittle worked the top of the eighth. Struck out two. Blew batters away. No runs.
Unfair. Just unfair. This is the new A’s baseball, the studs live in the bullpen and the starters form a bridge to the studs. You face the scary guys at the end. Except it didn’t work that way.
Jim Johnson came in for the ninth. Still no score. Johnson was the crown jewel of the A’s offseason pickups. He is the closer par excellence, the new Grant Balfour. He walked the leadoff hitter, then gave up a single and hit a batter. The bases were loaded before you could inhale. Melvin took him out.
“He gave up a couple of runs and we don’t want him throwing too many pitches,” Melvin said afterward. “He’s always the type of guy who’s one pitch away from a double play ball, but it just didn’t happen for him today.”
It sure didn’t. Johnson lost the game and, as he came off the field after his first A’s effort, the fans booed him. For one night — opening night — the A’s strength was their weakness. And isn’t life strange?
Which means the A’s flew off the precipice, after all. No one expected Johnson would to take the fall.
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