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Shaky debut for new closer darkens Gray's day

Starter tosses six frames in duel; Johnson stung in ninth inning

OAKLAND -- It wasn't even the rain that dampened Sonny's day.

The clouds separated just in time for Sonny Gray to take the mound for his first career Opening Day start in front of a sellout crowd that included several of his Nashville-based family members, and Oakland's baby-faced righty squirmed his way through six laboring innings. 

He walked three but also stranded eight -- "I was able to settle down and get out of some big jams," Gray said, "which was the story of the night, really" -- and was unscored upon in a gritty seven-strikeout performance.

But Gray didn't get the win, and neither did the A's. A baserunning blunder spoiled a big offensive opportunity in the eighth, and new closer Jim Johnson endured a shaky debut in the white shoes, allowing a pair of runs in the ninth in the 2-0 loss -- the A's 10th consecutive on Opening Day, a new Major League record.

"It's unfortunate," Johnson said. "You look at the way guys battled, Sonny especially. That was one of the most impressive performances I've ever seen. That guy wiggled better than anybody today. Not the way I really wanted to start the season but can't hang my head on it."

Oakland has dropped 17 of its last 21 openers, plating just 13 runs in its last 10. The bats habitually stayed quiet for much of the night, producing only three hits off an impressive Justin Masterson in seven innings, and five overall. But the A's also had their chances, stranding nine baserunners, including five in the final two frames.

Daric Barton led off the eighth against lefty Marc Rzepczynski with a base hit, advancing to second on Cody Allen's wild pitch in advance of Coco Crisp's eight-pitch walk. That's when Josh Donaldson sent a towering shot toward the center-field wall. Oakland's third baseman was clearly thinking three-run homer, but he had to settle on a single after it bounced off the top of the wall and back onto the field.

Barton, in limbo at second base while waiting to see if it would be caught, only made it to third, and the A's would strand the bases loaded.

"He crushed the ball, but I know as well as anyone the ball doesn't travel well at night here," Barton said. "Regardless, I probably should've been halfway."

"With nobody out, you tag up," confirmed manager Bob Melvin. "With one out, you're halfway so you can score."

Donaldson wasn't about to blame his teammate, though.

"I thought it was off the suites," he said. "I'm not frustrated with Barton. I was more frustrated it didn't get out. It's one of those things, you hit the ball probably as good as I can, you want to see the results of that.

"We make mistakes in this game. I'm sure if it was to go again, it would be handled differently, but it's Game 1. There's no panic around here. We're going to come out here tomorrow and try to win a game."

"That ball was killed," said Indians manager Terry Francona. "So we caught a break there."

Francona's Tribe did what the A's couldn't in the ninth, taking advantage of a bases-loaded opportunity. Johnson, the $10 million closer acquired by trade from the Orioles this winter, issued a walk to Asdrubal Cabrera before offering up a base hit to David Murphy. He then hit Yan Gomes, and Nyjer Morgan made him pay with a sacrifice fly to put the Indians on the board. Nick Swisher's ensuing base hit netted Cleveland an insurance run, and Johnson was quickly lifted to a roar of boos from his new fans.

"I would have booed me, too," said Johnson, the follow-up act to a combined two scoreless innings from Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle. "I sucked today, I'll admit it. That's fine. I deserved it. I expect that. The next time they're probably going to be cheering.

"Everything you're not supposed to do as a pitcher, I did. Pretty much the opposite way I wanted to start."

Johnson, who logged a 5.00 ERA and .324 opponents' average in nine games this spring, hasn't exactly enjoyed facing the Indians in his career, with Monday's outing upping his ERA against them to 6.61 in 16 appearances.

"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. "It just wasn't his day."

Jane Lee is a reporter for Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB.
Read More: Oakland Athletics, Josh Donaldson, Daric Barton, Jim Johnson, Sonny Gray