OAKLAND — Bring on the Cleveland Indians.
Sure, it's tough to roll out the welcome mat for the defending American League Central champions, who arrive at McAfee Coliseum on Friday night for the start of a three-game series against the A's. But after the Boston Red Sox left town following Wednesday night's 5-0 victory to complete a two-game sweep, there's no doubt the A's are ready to see some fresh blood in the opposing dugout.
Their first four regular-season games came against the Red Sox — they split two last week in Tokyo and dropped both in Oakland.
Officially, the A's were the home team for all four games, but the Red Sox had quite a crowd pulling for them on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.
The A's even had to switch Wednesday's start time from 7:05 p.m. to 12:35 p.m. to accommodate Boston's travel plans; otherwise an announced crowd of 21,625 would have been bigger.
"It seems like we've been playing them for three weeks," A's shortstop Bobby Crosby said.
The A's sputtered at the plate for the second straight game Wednesday, scraping together just four hits off Jon Lester (1-1), Bryan Corey and Manny Delcarmen. Their only extra-base hit was a double by Daric Barton that deflected off the glove of Boston third baseman Mike Lowell and settled in shallow left field.
They managed just one run and seven hits in the two games in Oakland, and they're off to their first 1-3 start since 2001. How much of that performance should be attributed to the jet lag of last week's overseas adventure? The A's say not much.
How much can be blamed on their crazy schedule, as they wedged in an exhibition series against the Giants between the four games with Boston? Crosby didn't reach for that excuse, either.
"Hopefully that's not the mental attitude being taken," he said. "I don't think that's the problem. We had a couple of games where we didn't really swing it. It's as simple as that."
Things unraveled for the A's on Wednesday when starting pitcher Rich Harden left after five innings and just 86 pitches. The right-hander labored through a 25-pitch first inning, when he loaded the bases with no outs but escaped without surrendering a run.
He settled down after that, but A's manager Bob Geren still pulled him after he struck out Manny Ramirez on a 94 mph fastball to end the top of the fifth inning. The A's treated Harden with care all through spring training, and Geren said the plan was to keep his pitch count right around 90 on Wednesday.
Relievers Andrew Brown and Alan Embree escaped trouble in the sixth. But in the seventh, Embree (0-1) left a fastball on the inside half of the plate for David Ortiz, and the slugger bashed it into the right-field seats for a two-run home run, breaking a scoreless tie.
Ortiz entered the game 0 for 11 on the season.
"I didn't make the pitch I needed to," Embree said. "I just missed with the location."