Boo birds descend on new A’s closer Jim Johnson


Have you ever had a couple of bad days at a new job despite trying to make a good impression? Ever have thousands of people scream at you for making a couple of mistakes? Have you ever had an angry mob tell your bosses to send you home for the day or banish you to your former employer? Welcome to Jim Johnson‘s world.

The new Oakland A’s closer hasn’t exactly endeared himself to the home crowd during the season’s opening series. Going 0-2 while coughing up five runs in just one inning of work against the Cleveland Indians has brought the boo birds out in force and left Johnson and manager Bob Melvin facing some hard questions during post-game interviews.

The A’s haven’t even completed their first homestand and Melvin’s already fielding inquiries about whether he’s worried about his closer and if the next save opporunity might go to someone else in the bullpen. And Johnson’s been stuck in front of his locker most nights with reporters crowded around him as he faces the music after another tough loss.

It’s a brutal start to Johnson’s career with the A’s, which promised to be brief even before his implosions on Monday and Wednesday. Seeing the small-budget A’s make an offseason trade with the Baltimore Orioles for a $10 million closer to replace All-Star Grant Balfour was a surprising move but it’s probably a given that Oakland will let Johnson walk as soon as he hits free agency after this season.

Despite the rough outings this week, Johnson hasn’t tried to duck any questions thrown his way after each defeat. As he told Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle last night, “We should be 3-0. I’ll take the blame for that. But if I sulk and pout, it doesn’t do anyone any good.”

In his two games against the Indians, Johnson has shown good velocity with his fastball regularly hitting 94 to 95 miles per hour on the radar gun. But location has been more of an issue as the closer’s signature power sinker hasn’t been catching the bottom of the strike zone with the consistency or movement that’s helped him lead the American League in saves the past two seasons. Last night it seemed like every ball Johnson left up in the zone was tagged for a hit by Cleveland’s batters.

The obvious question on everyone’s mind is what’s wrong with Johnson. For his part, the new A’s closer sounded just as baffled by his recent performances as anyone else. “I’ve got to be me. I’ve got to trust in what I’m doing, that it’s going to get better,” Johnson told Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group after Wednesday’s game. “Something’s going to click. That’s how this game works out. You go through slumps, and just one thing can get you going, and you’re off to the races.”

For the moment, it looks like the A’s coaching staff and Johnson have a puzzle to solve. Is Johnson wilting under the pressure of impressing a new team in front of hostile fans? Is he putting too much pressure on himself to have a near-perfect season as he enters free agency? Is Johnson overthrowing the ball, gaining impressive velocity at the expense of the natural sinking action on his fastball? Is he uncomfortable working with new catcher Derek Norris? Does Johnson lack faith in the ability of Oakland’s middle infielders to turn his groundballs into rally-killing double plays. Is he disgusted by playing in a ballpark where sewage leaks into the dugout and clubhouse? Does he feel uncomfortable pitching in the team’s distinctive white shoes?

Who knows? Feel free to join the overreaction party and venture a guess.

The more you think about what might be throwing off Johnson’s performance, the more complicated things can get. But the answer to what’s behind his early struggles may be as simple as a guy having a couple of bad days at work despite his best efforts. Baseball is hard and bad days can happen to the best players.

With three games down and 159 to go, the A’s and Johnson have to hope that his rough start is just a minor bump in the road, because in a vastly improved AL West, the margin of error for winning the division promises to be dangerously slim this year.

Daric Barton gives the doubters a little fuel for the fire

Last night the Oakland A’s lost to the Cleveland Indians, 2-0, extending their streak of season-opening defeats to 10 consecutive years. Oakland failed to come up with key hits with men on base and new closer Jim Johnson coughed up 2 runs in his debut with the A’s which pretty much sealed the team’s fate on Monday.

But the frustrating baserunning of Daric Barton on Josh Donaldson‘s near-homer/world’s-longest single was obviously a key point of frustration for the A’s after the game. Barton’s suprising failure to score kept the A’s off the board when they desperately needed a run to take a late lead in the season opener.

No one seemed particularly shy about how they felt in post-game interviews:

The palpable tension all around makes for fun reading and Barton’s gaffe just adds fuel to the fire for the segment of fans who never wanted to see him make the club out of spring training. In Barton’s defense, he made some slick plays at first base and he reached base twice while driving up pitch counts with his signature patient approach.

Ultimately, if the A’s came up with one or two key hits and Johnson shut down the Indians in the ninth inning last night, Barton’s misadventures on the basepaths probably wouldn’t be a topic of discussion after the game. But expectations are high in Oakland this year as the team pursues a third division title in a row and little mistakes like the one Barton made last night can add up by the end of the year, costing the A’s a few valuable wins when there’s little margin for error in the American League playoff chase.

If Barton really wants to prove the doubters wrong he didn’t do himself any favors with his baserunning last night.

Sizing up the Oakland A’s and AL West on Opening Night


The A’s finally get back to playing games that count when they open their 2014 season against the Cleveland Indians tonight in Oakland and first pitch can’t come a moment to soon for this die-hard fan. I took a look at the team’s Opening Day roster decisions and what the A’s learned in spring training over at Hot Stove Baseball but there’s always more for me to ramble about when it comes to the green and gold:

  • BREAK THE STREAK: If it feels like the A’s haven’t won on Opening Day for a long time, it’s because they haven’t. Oakland hasn’t come out on top in its first game of the season since 2004 when the team beat Texas, 5-4. Want a blast from the past? Chad Bradford got the win and Arthur Rhodes got the save that day and the lineup featured Eric Karros as the starting first baseman. Drawing the Cleveland Indians tonight should help the A’s chances of finally winning on Opening Night after hitting a brick wall in Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners for the past four years. I know Opening Night is just one game out of 162, but it’s still nice to kick the season off with a win.
  • A.J. GRIFFIN: I’m cautiously optimistic that Griffin can come back from elbow tendinitis and be an effective, reliable member of the A’s rotation all season. But that gut feeling is heavy on the caution and light on the optimism considering the fact that an entire offseason of rest didn’t cure what ails Griffin. I’m not sold on a month or so of rest along with a shot of platelet-rich plasma and some rehab getting Griffin back to full speed but I have my fingers crossed.
  • MICHAEL CHOICE: Admit it, you’re going to be keeping a close eye on what the former A’s prospect does in Texas while crossing your fingers that Craig Gentry plays a big role in Oakland winning the AL West again. Nervously viewing the Gentry-Choice trade in the same light as the Milton Bradley-Andre Ethier trade may be a little lazy but it’s impossible to avoid. At least Ethier did his damage in the National League. If Choice develops into a power hitting beast in Texas he’ll torture the A’s for years in the AL West.
  • STEPHEN VOGT: Reading about Vogt getting choked up and holding back tears after learning that we was being sent to Triple A Sacramento despite hitting the cover off the ball actually pulled at the hearstrings of this cold-hearted A’s fan. Vogt’s rise to the big leagues is a fantastic story, his game-winning hit in the 2013 playoffs will never be forgotten and on top of all that, he sounds like a genuinely good guy. You pull for players like that and it was brutal seeing him squeezed out of the Opening Day roster. But with John Jaso‘s susceptability to concussions, Vogt is just a couple of foul tips away from being in Oakland for most of the season. He’ll be back and he’ll be a part of any success the A’s enjoy in 2014.
  • Daric Barton refuses to go away.

    Daric Barton refuses to go away.

    DARIC BARTON: I’m sure there’s segment of the A’s fanbase that’s starting to view Barton as the baseball equivalent of crud stubbornly stuck to the bottom of a shoe. No matter how hard you try to scrape it off, the crud just won’t go away. Breaking camp with Barton penciled in for regular playing time may not be popular, but everyone’s favorite whipping boy is going to be standing on the foul line during Opening Night introductions so there’s no point in hoping for anything but the best out of Barton. I have to tip my hat to the kid for the perseverance he’s shown over the years. He knows he doesn’t exactly have a big fan club but he seems to be using the doubters as motivation. If it leads to some key hits and slick defensive plays I’ll take it.

  • TEXAS RANGERS: With Jarrod Parker, Griffin, Ryan Cook and Gentry on the shelf for the A’s, I’m relieved that the Rangers are also dealing with their fair share of bumps and bruises right now. On paper, it doesn’t look like they’re in position to pull away from the pack early in the season. But we’ll soon discover whether Texas’ patchwork starting rotation is ready for prime time.
  • THE ANGELS AND MARINERS: I’ve gotten so used to the A’s and Rangers being the top dogs in the AL West that I keep catching myself dismissing Anaheim and Seattle these days. If Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton have rebound seasons the Angels won’t need great pitching to make some noise in the division. And the Mariners just need their young players to provide Robinson Cano with a supporting cast for them to move into contention if their pitching comes together.
  • HOUSTON ASTROS: Smart money says they’re still going to be cellar dwellers in the AL West but Houston should be halfway decent which is a vast improvement over last season’s 100-loss club. The rebuild is going to pay off soon for the Astros and winning the AL West is going to be harder than ever for the A’s now that everyone in the division is rising to the challenge of keeping up with Oakland and Texas.
  • JOE BLANTON: The big guy is back and he’s scheduled to report to Sacramento to try and get back on track and provide the A’s with some insurance if the starting rotation needs reiforcements. You knew general manager Billy Beane would start dumpster diving for some affordable arms as soon as Parker and Griffin went down. Blanton’s about as interesting as any of the other veteran options out there who are willing to eat up some innings at Triple A with no guaranteed call to the big leagues. Now that Blanton’s back, it’s time to sign fellow 2006 A’s starters Barry Zito and Rich Harden.

In a few hours (weather permitting), the A’s will start the 162-game grind to pursue a third-consecutive AL West title. There’s obviously no guarantee that the regular season will end with champagne flowing in the locker room again but if the past few seasons are any prove anything, there definitely won’t be many dull moments for manager Bob Melvin’s talented and colorful ballclub.

Thinking way too much about every MLB team on Opening Day

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A quick run through some totally random gut feelings and stuff I’m looking forward to, or dreading, now that another season of baseball is finally upon us:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

EAST

  • Grady Sizemore hasn't been healthy since his glory days in Cleveland but he's on the comeback trail with Boston.

    Grady Sizemore hasn’t been healthy since his glory days in Cleveland but he’s on the comeback trail with Boston.

    Boston Red Sox – Sure, it’ll be interesting to find out whether Boston can win back-to-back championships but I’m more interested in seeing how Grady Sizemore‘s comeback pans out. Just making it to Opening Day as Boston’s starting center fielder is fantastic story, I just hope it has a happy ending by the time the season wraps up. Sizemore’s a spectacular talent who deserves a break after too many years lost to injury.

  • Tampa Bay Rays – They’re the A’s small-market counterpart in the AL East and it’s impossible to root against’em as they go toe-to-toe with the AL East’s well-heeled powerhouses. Manager Joe Maddon‘s crew is once again in position to take the division race right down to the wire and they’re a good bet to be one of the league’s best teams in 2014 despite their modest payroll. Gotta love that.
  • Baltimore Orioles – With two free agents in and two relatively high draft picks out during the offseason, it’ll be interesting to see whether Baltimore’s win-now moves to acquire Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz pays off with glory in the regular season. Manny Machado‘s health, Tommy Hunter‘s ability to fill Jim Johnson‘s shoes as closer and the emergence of a reliable second baseman may have as much to do with Baltimore’s success as anything Jimenez and Cruz do.
  • New York Yankees – The Bronx Bombers spent a zillion dollars over the winter and they’re definitely vastly improved with Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran donning pinstripes. But their infield looks like a wasteland of over-the-hill stars and other teams’ discards. Maybe it’s just the small-market fan in me, but there’s always something satisfying about seeing the Yankees miss the playoffs. Hopefully all their spending won’t pay off with an appearance in October this year.
  • Toronto Blue Jays – Last season the Jays failed to live up to the hype, bombing in the AL East in 2013 despite an aggressive offseason. Now that all the pressure is off and no one is expecting much out of Toronto it’ll be interesting to see if they can sneak up on the AL East and make some noise in the playoff race. A healthy, productive Brett Lawrie and solid work out of questionable rotation will go a long way toward digging the Blue Jays out of the cellar.

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Burgers, karaoke, biased umps and the world’s oldest former big leaguer

Just looking at this thing makes my arteries hurt. If you're a Rays fan and you can put this baby away there are some free tickets to a ballgame with your name all over it.

Just looking at this thing makes my arteries hurt. If you’re a Rays fan and you can put this baby away there are some free tickets to a ballgame waiting for you.

If you’re a baseball nut like me, your Twitter timeline has been chock full of roster moves, inane spring training game updates and fantasy baseball blather lately.

But there’s always a handful of tweets that catch my eye and lead my down the rabbit hole of the Internet as I follow shared links to a mix of odd, interesting and entertaining stories. This week we have a whopper of an eating challenge, partying in Korea, biased umpires (I knew it) and the world’s oldest former big leaguer:

The Valentine’s Day Love Stinks Movie Marathon

It’s Valentine’s Day, an annual Hallmark-driven time to express love and affection which is all well and good if you’re into that sort of thing. Personally, I’ll pass on going nuts with a card, flowers, candy and a nice dinner out on Feb. 14 for my wife and simply keep telling her I love her every day. It’s worked for about 10 years and I’ll stick to it until it fails miserably.

But even though I’m not an active participant in Valentine’s Day I’m not going to rail against it. Love is obviously a tremendously worthwhile sentiment. Like I tell my wife all the time, I love love – even when it’s been nauseatingly commercialized into Valentine’s Day. I’m such a fan of love that I even tipped my hat to Valentine’s Day on Facebook in my own odd way by sharing an amusing Jean-Claude Van Damme clip with the world.

But I was a lot more amused by the Facebook tributes to Valentine’s Day when my friend pointed out on his timeline that TCM was currently running “Days of Wine and Roses.” It’s a great movie but it’s a thoroughly heartbreaking look at booze-soaked love gone terribly wrong.

The whole thing got me thinking that there should be a movie marathon for all the lonely hearts out there and the people who embrace love but roll their eyes at the sappy nature of Valentine’s Day.

So, without further ado, here are my top films for the Love Stinks Movie Marathon:

“Days of Wine and Roses”

I already mentioned this movie as the jumping point for this thoroughly unromantic post. Alcoholism and love don’t mix very well for Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick in this classic film. Note to all the sweet, young female teetotalers out there: Watch this movie and forever beware the dangers of Brandy Alexanders.

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

MV5BMjIyMjgyNzA3OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTUxNzYxMTE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_We go from booze and a marriage gone bad in “Days of Wine and Roses” to … well, more booze and another marriage gone bad in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” This time it’s Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor watching their relationship take a turn for the worse in this Mike Nichols-directed movie. Note to self: If the wife and I ever become raging alcoholics it may make for a powerful movie but a horrible relationship.

“Play Misty for Me” and “The Beguiled

MV5BMTIzMTMzOTg5N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTc0NzYyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_I’m a big Clint Eastwood fan so I’m wedging two of his films into this anti-Valentine’s Day group of movies.

In “Play Misty for Me” Eastwood’s character is a playboy disc jockey who falls into bed with the wrong woman. If Eastwood’s character thought he could just love Jessica Walters’ character and leave her he was terribly wrong.

In “The Beguilded” Eastwood plays an injured Civil War soldier who hides out at a girls boarding school only to be undone by his own lust as he sleeps his way through the joint.

Both movies came out in 1971 which makes it the year of big-screen love gone wrong for the former mayor of Carmel. Eastwood had a far easier time dealing with cutthroat criminals in the “Dirty Harry” films than he did dealing with women in “Play Misty for Me” and “The Beguiled.”

“Fatal Attraction” and “Basic Instinct”

I guess some men just love crazy women. Michael Douglas has the bad judgement to jump in bed with psycho Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction” and the equally crazy Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct” with death and mayhem breaking out after each set of passionate, ill-advised encounters. Douglas could send Close and Stone an endless amount of Valentine’s Day flowers and it would never bring an end to the bunny boiling and icepick killings.

“Dial M for Murder”

MV5BMTMwNzc1MzM2M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDUxNDU2._V1_SX214_If I was married to Grace Kelly back in her heyday I’d thank my lucky stars. But Ray Milland’s character in “Dial M for Murder?” Not so much. He’s out to kill the poor girl for her money. Hallmark wants to sell us on the idea that Valentine’s Day is all warm and fuzzy but sometimes love is just a crock which is what Kelly’s character learns the hard way in this memorable Alfred Hitchcock production.

“The Graduate”

Congratulations Mike Nichols, you managed to direct two movies on this list.

One the one hand, you can look at “The Graduate” and say that love reigns supreme because the characters played by Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross end up with each other at the end of the movie. Personally, I see a hot mess. Hoffman spends most of the movie boffing Anne Bancroft and then crashes a wedding to the chagrin of almost everyone in attendance to get Ross back. Sure, they love each other enough to hop into the back of a bus together while Simon and Garfunkle play us into the end credits but I see a young relationship already burdened by a series of bad decisions with a gloomy forecast for longterm success. At a bare minimum, “The Graduate” spits in the eye of a sappy Valentine’s Day notion of love and romance being picture perfect.

“The War of the Roses”

MV5BMTgwNTAyMDIwOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjcxMTU1MQ@@._V1_SY317_CR2,0,214,317_Look who’s back on this list? It’s Michael Douglas! This time he’s starring as a man watching his marriage to Kathleen Turner go down in flames. They seemed so darn sweet together in “Romancing the Stone” it just breaks my heart to see them at each other’s throats in this movie. When love dies it ain’t pretty as this black comedy directed by Danny DeVito goes over the top to illustrate.

“Leaving Las Vegas”

Well, here we go again with booze and love combining to make one big mess for everyone involved. In “Leaving Las Vegas” Nic Cage is a self-destructive alcoholic who’s lost his family and job due to his addiction and Elisabeth Shue is a hooker with a heart of gold who falls in love with the big lug despite his obvious flaws. The only time this cute couple enjoys a moment of intimacy is in a dark, flea-bag hotel as Cage’s character is in the throes of death. Isn’t that romantic? Does Hallmark make a card for that? Nah, probably not. Things turned out so much better for Cage when he was in Sin City in “Honeymoon in Vegas.”

“Unfaithful”

MV5BMTU4MzUzNjk5OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMjc1OTc5._V1_SY317_CR6,0,214,317_You have to assume that when Diane Lane’s and Richard Gere’s characters in “Unfaithful” exchanged wedding vows they thought they’d live happily ever after and the “better or worse” part of the equation wouldn’t involve adultery, murder and jail. But that’s how it pans out in this rather depressing flick. I’d hate to see what Valentine’s Day looked like for these characters in the years following the conclusion of this movie.

“The Grifters” and “The Ice Harvest”

My wife claims that I have a man-crush on John Cusack but I’m just a longtime fan of the man’s work. For the sake of this post, Cusack makes it into one slot on this list because love runs through so much of his filmography. His early career was marked with rom-com’s such as “Better Off Dead” and “The Sure Thing.” As his career matured he shined in “Say Anything” and peaked in “High Fidelity.” In those movies, love eventually conquers all. But in Cusack’s mid-career films “The Grifters” and “The Ice Harvest” love stinks to high heaven.

In “The Grifters” Cusack’s girlfriend is just trying to manipulate him into working a long con and she eventually sets her sights on killing his mother. Charming. As for his mom, Cusack’s character was a weird relationship with her which is fraught with sexual tension that eventually leads to a tragic end for everyone involved.

In “The Ice Harvest” Cusack plays a sad-sack lawyer incompetently trying to make off with a pile of mob money while attempting to win the affection of a femme fatale. She’s bad news but I guess she wouldn’t be much of a femme fatale if she was all sunshine and rainbows now would she? Cusack’s character is also burdened with a frosty ex-wife who not only cheated on him with their divorce lawyer but she eventually married the guy. Just for kicks, she’s now ruthlessly crushing the divorce lawyer’s soul too.

No matter where Cusack turns in these movies, he’s looking for love in all the wrong places with dismal returns on his emotional investments.

Honorable mentions: “Taxi Driver,” “The Last Seduction,” “Red Rock West,” “Romeo is Bleeding,” “Kill Me Again.”

So there you have it, a celluloid celebration of how love can sometimes be nothing at all like the sappy, commercialized version of amore shoved down our throats every year on Valentine’s Day.

Cue up some of these movies tonight, curl up on the couch with the one you love and enjoy the fact that while the relationship you’re enjoying may not always be the stuff of cheesy Valentine’s Day cards at least it’s never as bad as it is for the characters in these films.

5 tattoo ideas for the tortured A’s fan

Jeremy Giambi and the flip play, Kirk Gibson and the 1988 World Series homer, Bud Selig and the ballpark fiasco ... there are plenty of tattoo idea for the tortured A's fan.

Jeremy Giambi and the flip play, Kirk Gibson and the 1988 World Series homer, Bud Selig and the ballpark fiasco … there are plenty of tattoo ideas for the tortured A’s fan.

Think you're a die-hard fan? This Dodgers fan takes the cake.

Think you’re a die-hard fan? This Dodgers fan takes the cake.

Anyone can go out and get a tattoo that captures the glory of their favorite team like this passionate Dodger fan did by committing his back to Jackie Robinson, Vin Scully and Dodger Stadium. But for this die-hard A’s fan, baseball is often about heartbreak and agony. What better way to capture the emotional trauma of being a baseball fan than with a tattoo that immortalizes some of the A’s most gut-wrenching moments and illustrates how every good moment is worth cherishing?

BHC logoCLICK HERE to read the rest of “5 tattoo ideas for the tortured A’s fan” over at Baseball Hot Corner.