OAKLAND -- -- For a second straight day, the A's scored multiple runs in the ninth inning off Tigers closer Joe Nathan. But after winning in walk-off fashion on Wednesday night, their comeback effort on Thursday came up a little short.
Oakland scored two runs in the ninth to cut Detroit's lead to 5-4, but Nathan held on to salvage a four-game series split and hand the A's their sixth loss in their last eight games.
The A's, officially one-third of the way through the season at 32-22, got RBI hits in the ninth from Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick. But with two outs and runners on first and second, pinch-hitter Jed Lowrie grounded out to first base to end the game.
While the A's late-game offense was encouraging, missed opportunities throughout the afternoon spelled their demise.
Oakland went 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position and left 14 men on base.
"We had plenty of opportunities today," said manager Bob Melvin. "We had some situation at-bats where we didn't come through. ... We still put ourselves in a position to win, kept fighting in the ninth and had the winning run on base."
Three times on Thursday the A's failed to score after putting multiple runners on base with no outs. They came up empty with the bases loaded in the second, with runners on first and third in the fifth, and with men on first and second in the seventh.
Oakland also loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth, but pinch-hitter Derek Norris popped out in foul territory against reliever Ian Krol.
"It's baseball," said infielder Nick Punto, whose two-run homer in the fourth briefly put the A's ahead, 2-1. "Sometimes you get those big hits, sometimes you don't. The good thing about this team is they're so good at turning the page, and we'll be ready to play tomorrow."
A's starter Jesse Chavez limited the Tigers to three runs in six innings -- his seventh quality start in 11 tries -- but the two runs he allowed in the fifth put Detroit ahead for good.
With one out in that frame, Ian Kinsler doubled home Andrew Romine to tie the game. Then, after Don Kelly lined a single off Chavez's leg, Miguel Cabrera hit a shallow fly ball to right field that dropped in front of Reddick to score Kinsler.
"It was a grind giving up eight hits and only giving up three [runs] against that lineup," Chavez said. "It tells you something."
Jim Johnson came on for the seventh and surrendered a pair of runs, widening the margin to 5-2 as his ERA climbed to 6.55. Johnson continues to struggle at the Coliseum: 13 of the 16 runs he's given up this season have come at home.
"I don't know what to tell you," Johnson said. "The balls are finding holes. I'm throwing pretty good pitches. Just feel like it's a little bit of bad luck. I don't think it's as bad as it really seems, but I think everyone else thinks that way."
"Obviously he's going to pitch in some games when we're down, and today we were down," Melvin said. "Guys have to respond to the opportunities they get. We'll continue to try to find a good spot for him and get him going."
Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello gave the A's plenty of chances, walking six batters in 5 2/3 innings, but the only two runs he allowed came on Punto's homer.
Punto, who was in the lineup for the first time in six days, had not homered since Aug. 12, 2013.
Aaron Leibowitz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.