OAKLAND — There isn't much that separates the A's and Texas Rangers, as was the case the past two seasons when the teams finished one-two, respectively, in the American League West.
Therefore, it's no surprise that the first two games of a three-game series between the teams at the Coliseum turned into back-and-forth affairs.
Both times, the Rangers emerged with one-run victories. On Tuesday night, the Rangers scored two runs in the ninth inning to turn a one-run deficit into a 5-4 lead that Joakim Soria preserved in the bottom of the inning.
The A's lost back-to-back games for the first time this season. They entered the game as the only team in the majors without two straight losses this season.
Soria did what Luke Gregerson failed to do for the A's: protect a lead and close out a hard-earned victory.
"We felt like we had the bullpen lined up to finish it off the last three," A's manager Bob Melvin said, "and we just came up an out short."
The A's carried a 4-3 lead into the ninth inning and seemed primed to turn it into a series-evening victory. Instead, the Rangers cut the A's division lead to a half game.
The Rangers tied the score with a two-out, RBI double by Josh Wilson off Gregerson, who is splitting time as the A's closer. They surged ahead on an RBI single by Michael Choice on the next batter.
Gregerson said he felt rushed for some reason, which caused him to be just a bit off with some of his pitches. Melvin said Gregerson's slider, the right-hander's go-to pitch, simply didn't move as much as it normally does.
Still, Gregerson came close to pulling out the save despite giving up a leadoff double and having a runner on third with one out.
At that point, Leonys Martin bunted toward the mound. Gregerson fielded the bunt, flipped it to catcher Derek Norris, who tagged Mitch Moreland before Moreland reached the plate.
"You get a gift like that, a nice ball coming right back to you, get the guy at home, get to two outs," Gregerson said, "I just didn't execute my pitches" afterward.
Gregerson said he has no choice but to put the outing behind him and move on, even though the sting lingers.
The blown save also cost Oakland starter Tommy Milone his first victory of the season.
That Milone got into position for the victory qualifies as impressive, considering he fell behind 2-0 and needed 31 pitches in the first inning.
After the shaky first inning, Milone settled down. He needed only 54 pitches to get through the next five innings.
"It was a dogfight," Milone said. "The first three innings were a little rough. ... I kept my composure, settled down and got through those last three innings."
Then again, Milone is accustomed to finding a way to make do, even when he isn't at his sharpest.
That's why Melvin didn't get too concerned when Milone struggled out of the gate.
"He's a battler," Melvin said. "He really doesn't let stuff affect him too much. He gets off to a slow start, he usually finds himself and gives you enough, like again today, to get you through six."
By the time Milone called it a night, the A's secured a 4-3 lead and held it until the ninth. Ryan Cook and Fernando Abad combined for two scoreless innings, at which point Melvin turned to Gregerson.
Choice replaced the injured Shin-Soo Choo atop the order, and he played left field. The A's traded Choice to the Rangers for outfielder Craig Gentry during the offseason, three months after Choice made his major league debut against the Rangers at the Coliseum.
The A's counter with their top prospect, Sonny Gray, in a game between two pitchers with almost identical stats this season. Perez and Gray are 3-0, though Gray's 1.80 ERA is a shade better than Martin's (1.86).
Crisp felt so well that he started Tuesday's game. Melvin said he might be inclined to give Crisp the day off Wednesday.
Crisp had an X-ray on his ribs after Monday's game. The X-ray returned negative, Melvin said. He also has battled wrist and hamstring injuries the first part of the season.
Melvin said O'Flaherty looked "really good" while throwing all his pitches from the regulation 60 feet, 6 inches, both firsts since O'Flaherty started throwing in his recovery from elbow surgery.
Texas (Martin Perez 3-0) at A's (Sonny Gray 3-0), 12:35 p.m. CSNCA