SEATTLE -- The A's, who made the most of playing in the American League West early on, are finding out how the other side lives after a punch-in-the-gut 7-5 loss to the Seattle Mariners on Saturday night.
The A's were 21-10 against the West to start this trip but lost three of four in Texas and have split the first two games in Seattle heading into Sunday's finale.
The culprit in much of this has been the bullpen. On Saturday, Jerry Blevins gave up a three-run, game-tying home run to Raul Ibanez in the seventh, and Ryan Cook was scorched for a two-run single by rookie Nick Franklin an inning later as the Mariners rallied from a 5-2 deficit for the win.
"I hope it's just one of those short stints," Blevins said. "Cook will bounce back. I'll bounce back."
The bullpen giving up five runs in 42/3 innings is part of a larger trend. On the trip the relievers have pitched 172/3 innings and allowed a dozen runs. Three of the four losses have been pinned on the relievers, who have also allowed six of 11 inherited runners to score.
"Bullpens are going to go through small stretches like this," manager Bob Melvin said.
When they do, a first-place team can expect to feel pushback, and the A's are feeling it. A three-game lead in the division over Texas has been cut to a share of first place with the Rangers.
The A's had built up a lead of 5-2 on the strength of three RBIs from Jed Lowrie, including a two-run single that moved Oakland from behind to ahead in the fifth inning.
With Jesse Chavez throwing 21/3 shutout innings in relief of starter Dan Straily and Blevins entering the game to get the last out of the sixth inning, the A's had a three-run lead and, given the way most of the season has gone, every reason to believe they would be able to close this one out.
"With a 5-2 lead like that," Melvin said, "we feel pretty much like it's in the bag."
It wasn't, and Blevins took most of that on himself.
One out into the seventh inning, he saw Kyle Seager deliver a single, then Blevins walked Kendrys Morales to bring Ibanez to the plate as the tying run. Ibanez crushed a curveball left over the middle of the plate, and it was a new game.
"That was not a terrible pitch," Blevins said. "It wasn't where I wanted it, but he hit it good. I'm more upset with the walk."
Blevins was looking to go on the outside of the strike zone with the curveball, keeping it down. But Ibanez has a nice history as a low-ball hitter, and getting it too much over the middle of the plate left Blevins vulnerable.
Cook started the eighth by giving up a single on a 1-2 pitch to a sub-.200 hitter, Brendan Ryan. And from there, nothing went right. The next hitter, Endy Chavez, tried to drop down a bunt, but Cook instead got the runner to second base by throwing a wild pitch.
Chavez came back with another bunt try, beating this one out as Ryan took third.
Chavez moved to second on what was ruled defensive indifference, but the A's were anything but indifferent when Franklin, who hit a three-run homer Friday for the only Seattle runs, this time singled up the middle to score two.
The pitching collapse negated some nice offensive days for the A's. Lowrie, whose solo homer Friday tied the game, drove in the A's first three runs and finished with three hits as he pushed his average back over .300 at .305. Eric Sogard also had three hits and scored two of the A's runs.
"The offense had some really clutch two-out hits," Blevins said. "But the (Ibanez) homer made a huge momentum shift."
The start went instead to Derek Norris, who came into the game with a .132 average this season against right-handed pitching. "It's healing, but slowly," Jaso said.
Infielder Adam Rosales is 0 for 17 as a pinch-hitter this season, but that doesn't mean Melvin will look elsewhere when wanting to pinch-hit for second baseman Sogard. "It's been a tough start," Melvin said. "But we've got to stay confident. He's come up big for us at times. He's such an accountable guy."
A's (Jarrod Parker 6-6) at Seattle (Jeremy Bonderman 1-1), 1:10 p.m., CSNCA