When Mark Ellis and Eric Chavez hit back-to-back home runs in the first inning Sunday off Scott Kazmir, it looked as if the A's had some momentum going.
But then the familiar early season story resumed. The zeroes started piling up. Kazmir settled down. The A's managed just one run the rest of the way and Tampa Bay came back for a 5-3 victory in front of 23,827 at McAfee Coliseum.
"We knew we were going to have to score more than two," Ellis said. "We had our chances, myself included. We just couldn't get it done."
The A's had the bases loaded against Kazmir in the fifth, but Ellis popped out to second to end the inning.
"He got me with a fastball at the end," Ellis said. "It was a good pitch to hit. I just popped it up."
Dallas Braden had been outstanding in his major league debut in Baltimore for the A's, going six innings while allowing just three hits and one run.
Braden's bubble burst Sunday on a three-run home run by B.J. Upton in the fourth inning that put the Devil Rays ahead 3-2. When Braden gave up back-to-back blasts to Rocco Baldelli and Elijah Dukes in the fifth, A's manager Bob Geren got his bullpen ready in a hurry and went to Kiko Calero after the southpaw Braden retired lefty-hitting Carl Crawford.
But by then it was too late.
"I felt great until the fourth, spectacular," said Braden, who was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento after the game to make room for Ryan Langerhans, who the A's acquired from Atlanta. "But if you pitch up, you're going to get beat up. I wish I could've been better for the people who paid money to see it."
A large contingent from Braden's home town of Stockton had come to see him make his first home start.
"There were a ton of people," Braden said. "I saw them on the third-base side, the first-base side, in the bleachers."
Braden walked two batters in the first inning, but got out of it by striking out the side. He got through the next two innings, but walked Crawford to start the fourth. Ty Wigginton singled and Upton unloaded for a game-turning homer.
"In Double-A and Triple-A you can get away with high fastballs out of the zone," Braden said. "Here the hitters savor them. Your misses have to be quality misses."
"Dallas pitched pretty well," Geren said. "He left a couple of balls in the middle of the plate. When you're a fastball-changeup guy, location is a key."
After getting out of the bases-loaded jam in the fifth, Kazmir retired the A's in order in the sixth and seventh. He improved to 3-1 with a 3.48 ERA in six career starts against the A's.
Marco Scutaro and Shannon Stewart hit back-to-back singles off reliever Shawn Camp to start the eighth. After Ellis flied to right, the Devil Rays, without a left-hander in their bullpen, brought in Brian Stokes and his 7.84 ERA to pitch to Chavez, who popped out to third. Mike Piazza singled to score a run, but Bobby Crosby flied out to center to end the inning.
"We got a couple of runs early and got Kazmir in a couple of jams, but we just couldn't get one more big hit," Geren said.
Al Reyes came on in the ninth and set down the A's in order. It was the ninth save in as many opportunities for Reyes, who missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in October of 2005.
Contact Glenn Reeves of the San Mateo County Times at email@example.com.