OAKLAND -- It was Mystery Day at the Coliseum on Thursday as the A's dropped a "Can-they-pull-it-out-again?" 5-4 decision to the Detroit Tigers.
Mystery 1: Why would any fan leave the Coliseum early when the A's are writing the book on how to come back in the eighth and ninth innings?
Mystery 2: What in the world is going on with Jim Johnson?
Mystery 3: Was a four-game series against the Tigers, the team Oakland met in the playoffs the last two seasons, a bigger deal than a three-game weekend set against the Angels, who come in as the A's closest challenger in the American League West?
To attack the questions in order, let's start with the assumption that fans, having a ticket in hand, are free to leave when they wish. It's just that one-third of the way through the season, the 32-22 A's are making it difficult.
In the ninth inning Thursday, Oakland was down 5-2 but scored twice and had two men on base before Joe Nathan nailed down the save. On Wednesday, Nathan had tried to close out a 1-0 win only to see Josh Donaldson win it for the A's with a three-run homer.
The A's might be the most dangerous ninth-inning team in the big leagues today. They've scored 30 runs in the ninth. That's not their biggest inning in terms of runs (40 in the second), but the A's don't get a chance to bat in the ninth in most home wins.
"I think it's just the character of the guys in here," Donaldson said. "Guys in the ninth just focus on winning."
The A's were 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position for eight innings, then got a couple RBI hits in the ninth. In the end, the A's were 2 for 14 with men in scoring position and left 14 men on base.
"Today was one of the most frustrating days offensively for our team in a long time," Donaldson said. "We had so many opportunities. It's just one of those things where you have to learn from the mistakes that you made."
The A's put the first two men on base in the second, fifth and seventh and did not score in any of those innings. To do that and lose by one run hurts.
"We had opportunities with situational hitting," manager Bob Melvin said. "We put ourselves in position."
That brings us to Mystery 2. What's up with Johnson? The two-time 50-saves closer in Baltimore began the season as the A's closer, but that lasted less than two weeks. From April 11-May 4 he got it together, throwing shutout ball for 101/3 innings, but with Thursday's two runs, he's allowed nine runs, all earned, in 81/3 innings as his ERA has climbed from 4.61 to its current 6.55.
Melvin has moved him all over the back end of games, and nothing seems to work. The fans have noticed; there were boos all over the place in the seventh inning Thursday.
"I feel like I've been throwing the ball well, and I just haven't had any luck lately," Johnson said. "I don't know what to tell you. Balls are finding holes. I'm throwing pretty good pitches. I don't think it's as bad as it really seems, but I think everybody else thinks that way."
Melvin said that for the time being, Johnson will be pitching in games where the A's are behind. That role generally is given over to younger, unproven pitchers. Melvin is scratching to see if there's any way to unlock the arsenal of outs the A's still believe live in Johnson's right arm.
As for Mystery 3, that will be played out this weekend. The Angels were down on their luck when the A's saw them in mid-April, but the Anaheim crew has found a new life, winning 13 of 19 heading into Thursday night's game in Seattle.
"All we are trying to do is to go out and win every series," Thursday starter Jesse Chavez said. "So we'll take this one and get after this next one this weekend."
L.A. Angels (Garrett Richards 4-1) at A's (Drew Pomeranz 4-2), 7:05 p.m. CSNCA
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