Big Hurt's big night goes for naught

Big Hurt's big night goes for naught

OAKLAND -- Homerless in his previous 30 games, including his first 82 plate appearances after signing for a second go-round with the A's on April 24, Frank Thomas broke out of the second-longest dinger drought of his career Monday night at McAfee Coliseum.

His two-run shot with two out in the bottom of the first inning quickly cleared the 400-foot sign on the wall in dead center field to open the scoring, and his two-out solo shot to tie the game in the sixth might have put a crack in the concrete steps beyond the left-field wall.

Two classic Big Hurt rockets, Nos. 517 and 518 of his illustrious career.

Alas, it was the A's who were left hurting by the end of the night -- a very long night that illustrated much of what's ailed Oakland while losing eight of its past 10 games to take the shine off the feel-good story that was the club's first six weeks of the season.

Thomas' third hit of the night helped the A's force extra innings, but rookie Evan Longoria launched a two-run homer off Chad Gaudin in the top of the 13th inning to give the visiting Rays a 7-6 victory in the opener of a three-game series.

"Any loss is disappointing," said Oakland manager Bob Geren, who then ticked off his daily list of positive developments.

Geren ended his postgame session after being told by a media-relations staffer that righty reliever Santiago Casilla, placed on the disabled list Friday, had been diagnosed with a "mild" ligament strain in his right elbow and wouldn't be allowed to start a throwing program for five days.

"That's another positive," Geren said earnestly.

But with the exception of Thomas' breakout game and two dominant innings from closer Huston Street, it was a night filled with the kind of struggles that pocked the 2-7 road trip the ended with a thud in Atlanta on Sunday.

Joe Blanton, the Opening Day starter for a rotation that was not long ago the envy of virtually every club not based in Cleveland, couldn't hold the early three-run lead he was given when Emil Brown hit his fifth homer of the year in the second.

Eric Hinske made it 3-2 with a line drive that glanced off the top of the right-field wall for a two-run homer in the fifth. Two doubles, an intentional walk and a groundout gave the Rays a 4-3 lead in the sixth.

"That's just the way things are going right now," Blanton said. "Ball hits the top of the wall and goes out."

Not long ago the best in the business, the A's bullpen almost immediately allowed Tampa Bay to snap the late tie that Thomas created. And while Street -- career-high five strikeouts over two innings -- and veterans Keith Foulke and Alan Embree combined on 4 1/3 innings of one-hit work, Gaudin's hanging slider helped continue a trend established when the relievers posted a 5.12 ERA on the just-concluded trip.

Another trend: The A's offense, which led the Majors in batting with runners in scoring position before the trip but went 4-for-40 in such situations over the last six games of it, couldn't even get a runner in scoring position -- excluding the homers -- for the first 7 2/3 innings against Rays starter James Shields.

With two out in the eighth and pinch-runner Rajai Davis at first, Thomas dumped a single into right field to send Davis to third and set up Ryan Sweeney with Oakland's first RISP opportunity of the night. Sweeney made the most of it, singling to right himself to again tie the game and chase Shields, but Brown popped out with a runner at second to end the inning.

Daric Barton's two-out RBI triple in the bottom of the 13th accounted for the final score, but the A's squandered many an opportunity to go home much earlier.

The next RISP situations for Oakland came in bottom of the ninth, after Street blew away the Rays -- three batters, three strikeouts -- in the top of the frame. Barton worked a leadoff walk from Tampa lefty J.P. Howell and moved to second on and Kurt Suzuki's sacrifice bunt, but rookie Gregorio Petit and Jack Hannahan struck out.

In the bottom of the 10th, after a leadoff walk to Bobby Crosby, Davis popped into a double play while trying to sacrifice. In the 11th, the A's had two on and one out and couldn't score.

"We had our chances," Geren said.

They also had some shaky defense courtesy left fielder Jack Cust, who misplayed a couple of balls without being charged for any errors, and another inexplicable baserunning mistake like the several Oakland made over the weekend in Atlanta.

After singling with one out in the bottom of the fifth, Suzuki rounded second too hard on a bunt single by Petit and was gunned down by Longoria while trying to scramble back to the bag.

"Some very unusual plays," Geren said. "It's difficult to put a finger on."

It's also difficult to go deep to right field late at night in Oakland. Jason Giambi used to talk about it all the time, and Barton saw the truth in it Monday when his 13th inning drive lost steam above the warning track.

"I could tell," said Rays manager Joe Maddon, who made many visits here while a coach with the Angels, "it wasn't going to go out."

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.