Sean Doolittle comes to Jim Johnson’s defense regarding boos

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OAKLAND -– Jim Johnson once again struggled and got an earful from A’s fans on Thursday, and one of his bullpen teammates expressed disappointment with the home crowd.

Johnson gave up two runs in the seventh inning Thursday against the Detroit Tigers; runs that proved critical as the A’s battled back before falling 5-4 in the finale of a four-game series.

After retiring the side, Johnson left to a chorus of boos, a scene that has marked his rough first season in green and gold. He’s now allowed nine runs over his last nine outings (8 1/3 IP), increasing his overall ERA to 6.55 in 22 appearances.

A’s closer Sean Doolittle maintains faith in Johnson, saying he believes the sinkerballer has the stuff and track record to turn his year around. Doolittle wasn’t as supportive of the treatment Johnson got as he exited the field.

“We spent all offseason telling the new guys about how great our fans were,” Doolittle said. “And from game one — game one — he got booed off the field. We’re sitting in the dugout looking around. I can’t remember that happening since I’ve been here. We went through some rough patches last year when we were pretty bad, but I don’t remember the boo birds coming out like that.”

Johnson had a large group of reporters gathered around his locker after the game.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “Balls are finding holes. I’m throwing pretty good pitches. I just feel like I’m getting a little bit of bad luck. I don’t think it’s as bad as it really seems, but I think everybody else thinks that way.”

Johnson has found success on the road –- a 3-0 record, 1.98 ERA and .208 opponents’ batting average in 11 games.

At home? He is 0-2 with a 14.05 ERA and .465 opponents’ average in 11 games.

Asked if the boos are affecting him on the mound, Johnson paused before responding: “What am I supposed to do?”

The reason for the home fans’ treatment of Johnson certainly was tied, early on, to him replacing a fan favorite closer in Grant Balfour. And though Balfour left via free agency — and Johnson was only acquired via trade after it was clear Balfour wouldn’t be back –- fans initially seemed to view the situation as a straight-up swap, Johnson for Balfour.

Then Johnson allowed two ninth-inning runs in an Opening Night loss to Cleveland and was serenaded by boos right off the bat.

[RELATED: A’s fall to Tigers, split four-game set]

“I would’ve booed me too,” he said that night.

In defense of the home fans, Johnson got an encouraging reception later in that season-opening homestand. Dealing with boos comes with the territory for professional athletes, and Johnson’s home stats aren’t doing much to win fans over during the first one-third of the season.

Entering in relief of Jesse Chavez on Thursday with Oakland trailing 3-2, Johnson retired his first batter before giving up singles to Don Kelly and Miguel Cabrera. Then Victor Martinez followed with a hard-hit two-run double down the right-field line that made it 5-2.

Still, Doolittle — a fan favorite and one of many A’s players who often speaks highly of the Coliseum crowd — doesn’t like the treatment Johnson is getting.

“I mean, we all take notice of it,” Doolittle said. “One guy was giving him the double-barreled middle finger above the dugout after one of his outings. That’s disgusting. That’s pretty ridiculous that he has to deal with that.”

After losing the closer’s role early in the season, Johnson finds himself pitching earlier in games and often when the A’s are already trailing.

“Guys have to respond to the opportunities they get,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “We’ll continue to try to find a good spot for him and get him going.”

Myles Garrett and Mason Rudolph: meet Juan Marichal and John Roseboro

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Last night the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Cleveland Browns. No one is gonna be talking nearly as much about the outcome today, however, as they are the carnage.

Specifically, the carnage that led to Browns defensive end Myles Garrett getting ejected from the game after ripping Steelers’ quarterback Mason Rudolph’s helmet off, swinging it at him and connecting with Rudolph’s skull as the game came to a close. Things were already chippy as all get-out, but that obviously led to a brawl which will lead to a ton of suspensions, including a possibly record-breaking one for Garrett. For all your analysis on that, check out PFT, obviously.

The incident will dominate the sports shows today because malicious attempts to injure another player with a piece of equipment are pretty rare in professional sports. There was at least one incident in baseball history, however, that was analogous to what went down in Cleveland last night.

It took place on August 22, 1965 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco during a Dodgers-Giants game. That’s when Giants ace Juan Marichal, playing the role of Garrett, took a baseball bat to the head of Dodgers catcher John Roseboro, standing in for Rudolph.

The Dodgers and Giants are rivals, of course, and in 1965 the two teams were in a pitched battle for the N.L. pennant, with the Dodgers leading San Francisco by a game and a half as the day began.

Pitchers in 1965 were a bit more aggressive about claiming the inside part of the plate than they are today, and on that day, everyone seemed cranky. Marichal knocked Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills down with some chin music in the top of the second for, it appears, committing the terrible transgression of bunting for a single in his first at bat of the game. In response Koufax fired a fastball over Willie Mays’ head, sending the ball to the backstop. So everyone was even, yeah?

Nah. Marichal responded in the top of third with an inside fastball that sent Dodgers first baseman Ron Fairly sprawling to the dirt. At that point home plate umpire Shag Crawford issued a warning, indicating that that the next close pitch from either team would result in an ejection. Walter Alston’s Dodgers, though, were a clever bunch. Sure, maybe a close pitch was going to get an ace ejected in a pennant race, but there are other ways to buzz someone’s tower, right?

Pitchers batted in every game back then, of course, and Marichal came to bat in the bottom of the third. Koufax didn’t throw at him, though. Instead, Roseboro, catching for L.A., threw the ball back to Koufax in such a way as to have it sail close to Marichal’s head as he stood in the batter’s box. He later admitted in his autobiography that it was no accident, he was trying to intimidate Marichal.

Marichal flipped out, clubbing Roseboro with his bat, after which all hell broke loose (all photos, and the original caption from 1965, are from Getty Images):

 

Juan Marichal holding bat, John Roseboro attacked, and Sandy Koufax closes in.

 

Roseboro throws a punch at Marichal while latter swings bat and Koufax comes in to try and break it up.

 

On deck batter Giant Tito Fuentes pulls Roseboro away while Marichal wields bat at Koufax while umpire Shag Crawford and Giant coach Charlie Fox try to break it up.

 

Umpire Shag Crawford wrestles with Marichal while Dodgers Jim Gilliam (19) and Koufax come in. Rear is Giants coach Charlie Fox. Marichal falls to the ground on top of Shag Crawford while Giants Orlando Cepeda joins the melee.

 

Umpire Shag Crawford is shown here wrestling with Marichal as Dodgers Jim Gilliam (#19) and Sandy Koufax join in. In the rear is Giants’ coach Charlie Fox.

 

Identifiable L-R: Dodger Jim Gilliam (19); John Roseboro (with chest protector); Giants Orlando Cepeda (30); Cap Peterson (17); Warren Spahn; and Mgr. Herman Franks (3).

Willie Mays was credited with keeping the brawl from getting worse. Roseboro had military and martial arts training and, as you can see in the second photo, he was not slowed by his head injury — an injury that would require 14 stitches — from trying to take Marichal apart. Mays was the one who ultimately pulled Roseboro away and out of the fracas. He even held a towel to Roseboro’s head which by then had begun to bleed profusely. The fight eventually ended, with several players sustaining injuries due to kicks and accidental spikings of hands and legs and stuff.

The incident delayed the game for 14 minutes but the fallout beyond that was pretty tame compared to today’s standards. Marichal got an eight day suspension which, because of scheduled doubleheaders, caused him to miss ten games. He was also fined $1,750, which is around $15,000 today. Roseboro only missed two games due to his injury. The Dodgers would lose this game thanks to a big homer from Mays off of Koufax, but the Dodgers would go on to win the pennant and defeat the Minnesota Twins in the World Series.

There was additional fallout: Roseboro sued Marichal for $110,000 in damages. They’d eventually settle, with Roseboro receiving $7,500 from Marichal.

But there was no lingering bad blood. In interviews after the incident both players admitted that there was much more on their minds in 1965 that might’ve contributed to their aggression on that day. There was the rivalry, of course, and the pennant race. But Marichal had been much more personally distracted by a civil war in his native Dominican Republic that raged in 1965 and would not end until September. Roseboro had been, understandably, affected by the Watts Riots in Los Angeles which had taken place just over a week before this game. When you feel helpless about situation A, you often channel your feelings into situation B and both men said that something like that was probably simmering.

Marichal would play for the Dodgers for two games in 1975, the final year of his career. Roseboro had already retired, but Marichal’s cup of coffee with L.A. allowed them to meet up at a Dodgers old-timers game in 1982. There they posed for this photo: 

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“There were no hard feelings on my part,” Roseboro told the L.A. Times in 1990. Roseboro died in 2002. Marichal was an honorary pallbearer at his funeral.

Let’s check in with Garrett and Ruldolph in 37 years to see how they’re doing.