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OAKLAND – Their opening homestand offered more than anyone bargained for, so the Oakland A’s will hit the road craving a little normalcy away from the Coliseum.
A 3-3 record? It’s not what they dreamed up for their first week. But this is a team that had two games postponed and was forced to grind through a doubleheader. They couldn’t even indulge in on-field batting practice before five of their six games due to bad weather and field conditions.
Given the craziness, they’re not complaining about a .500 homestand in which a couple more victories were there for the plucking.
“It could have been better,” designated hitter Brandon Moss said. “It could be worse. It was definitely an odd week with all the rainouts. It feels like it’s been more than a week with all the time down that we’ve had.”
The A’s appeared to be sleepwalking through the early stages of Sunday’s 6-3 victory over Seattle, but some developments emerged that bode well for the three-city, nine-game trip that begins Monday afternoon in Minnesota.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Moss, Cespedes go deep, Johnson gets save]
They received the first home runs of 2014 from Moss and Yoenis Cespedes, two players who will factor prominently in whatever offensive success is in store for Oakland. Moss, who is making the adjustment to semi-regular DH duty, launched a three-run shot over the elevated wall in right-center in the third. That tied the game, 3-3, and it invigorated A’s starting pitcher Sonny Gray, who seemed to open the game in a lethargic state himself.
“When Moss hit that three-run homer, I could feel myself … it helped get me back going. It got me jump-started,” Gray said.
Cespedes continues a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance in the batter’s box. One at-bat after chasing a shoulder-high fastball for strike three, he drilled a solo homer to right-center in the eighth that gave the A’s a three-run cushion. That helped make up for a baserunning blunder in the second, when Cespedes broke for third too early on a steal attempt and was caught in a rundown.
“His swings at times have been better, maybe not earlier (Sunday),” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Some at-bats certainly are a lot better than we saw in the spring, and if he continues to stay up the middle and the other way, he’ll see better results.”
A 6-3 lead provided an opportune time for Melvin to send closer Jim Johnson back out in the ninth inning to nail down his first save as an Athletic. It wasn’t smooth sailing – Johnson put two runners on base with one out. But he ended the game with called strikeouts of Mike Zunino and Abraham Almonte – both on off-speed pitches that complemented a sinker that was much better than in Johnson’s two disastrous outings to begin the season.
Johnson felt some venom from the home crowd in those outings, but he was greeted with a warm ovation from a gathering of 32,852 on Sunday, and he delivered with fans standing and cheering in anticipation of the final out.
That’s back-to-back positive outings for Johnson – he tossed a scoreless eighth Saturday. But as he fields questions about A’s fans apparently warming to him, Johnson talks as if there never was an issue in his mind to begin with.
“I honestly thought they’ve been very supportive,” Johnson said. “Overall, I’ve been blown away with their reaction.”
No doubt there were parts of Sunday afternoon the A’s can’t repeat. Daric Barton made a costly error that contributed to the Mariners’ two-run second. Coco Crisp’s lazy effort in fielding Robinson Cano’s single allowed Cano to stretch out a double.
“Whether it’s days of non-batting practice and not being on the field or whatever, there’s no excuse to not have some focus early on,” Melvin said.
Now the A’s head to Minneapolis, where you would think the April weather could spell disaster. Instead, forecasts call for some sunshine and manageable temperatures in the 50’s Monday afternoon.
The A’s are an easy bunch to please right now.
Give them some dry weather. Give them some batting practice. Then watch if they can build on some encouraging signs that revealed themselves Sunday.