The much maligned A’s catcher was instrumental in Oakland’s 8-7 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night in Oakland. The loss was a rude welcoming to Coliseum for the Cubs who had never played in the East Bay.
It looked like business as usual against a sub-.500 team for the Green and Gold, jumping out to a 3-0 lead on the strength of home runs from Josh Donaldson and Chris Young in the first two innings.
The Cubs answered in a big way though against A.J. Griffin. After the best outing of his career, Griffin surrendered five runs in the fourth inning. A three run homer from Alfonso Soriano, a sac fly to Darwin Barney and an RBI single from Wellington Castillo put the Cubs up 5-3.
It didn’t take long for the A’s to answer right back though, as a defensive miscue by the Cubs allowed Oakland to put runners at second and third with one out. Coco Crisp wasted no time bringing those runners in, tying the game with a base hit through the right side. Oakland’s lead would dissipate in the sixth, however, when Castillo drove a two-run double over Chris Young’s head in centerfield, giving the Cubs a 7-5 advantage.
Chicago’s bullpen was good for most of the night, as they were shoved into duty after their scheduled starting pitcher, Scott Feldman, was traded just a few hours before the game started. The A’s couldn’t find a breakout inning against the Cubs’ pitching staff through seven innings, but they finally made it happen in the eighth. Donaldson led off the inning with a single, and Josh Reddick walked to put the tying run on with two outs for Norris. Norris quickly fell behind 0-2, and it looked like the catcher’s season-long woes at the plate would continue.
But then the man who has been at the end of countless Chuck Norris puns and jokes over the past two seasons came through like the famed martial artist might in the same situation.
Norris worked a 2-2 count and then got a change-up out over the plate and absolutely crushed it. He got his arms extended, barreled the pitch up, and deposited it beyond the 388 marker in left center field for the go-ahead home run.
The bearded backstop wasn’t done yet. Grant Balfour came on for his 20th save of the season and quickly got into trouble when Luis Valbuena walked to open the inning. Valbuena took off for second on a 3-2 pitch to the next batter, Starlin Castro. Castro swung and missed, and Norris hummed a seed to the outstretched glove of Eric Sogard at second base. Sogard applied the tag on Valbuena and complete the strike-em-out-throw-em-out double play.
The game would end on a Nate Schierholtz ground out to second, and the A’s secured one of their most exciting non-walk-off wins of the year.
If you could have an eighth inning walk-off though, this was it. And it has gotten to a point where it is expected from this team. The remarkable part is that it is a different guy picking the team up every time they’re down. It doesn’t even have to be a walk-off hero. It could be defensive contributions, starting pitching, relief pitching, big hits early in the game — it doesn’t matter with these guys. Bob Melvin’s squad picks up the pieces every game and finds a way to put together wins.
This time, it was Derek Norris. The guy that people have discussed replacing. The guy that came into the night with six hits in his last 43 at-bats. None of that mattered on the 2-2 change-up off the hand of James Russell. None of that mattered when Valbuena tried to steal second. Derek Norris needed to come up big to help his team win, and he did.
Oakland will take on the Cubs again on Wednesday night as Bartolo Colon squares off against Matt Garza at the Coliseum.
– Norris has 11 career home runs, all to left and left-center field. He has also homered off 11 different pitchers. What’s more, the home run on Tuesday was the seventh two-out home run of his career.
– Texas lost … finally. The A’s are back in sole possession of first by a half game.
– Oakland is also a game and a half back of Boston for the best record in the American League.
– Tuesday was the 17th time the A’s have given up 7 or more runs in a game. It was only their third win in those games, and their first in a regulation game. The others were a 9-8 extra-inning win over the Orioles on April 28, and a 10-8 win in the 19-inning marathon against the Angels on April 29.
– The A’s are a perfect 17-0 now when they score 8 or more runs.
– One run games have been kind to Oakland this year, as they are 15-10 in such contests.
– Interleague play continues to be good to the Green and Gold as well. They’re 10-3 against the National League and are outscoring opponents 74-45.
– Norris’s eighth inning homer was the 32nd by the A’s in the seventh inning or later. The mark of 32 ties them with Atlanta and Seattle for second most in the majors. Baltimore leads the league with 35.
– Dan Otero got his first career win in his 20th career appearance. He previously saw 12 games of action in San Francisco, and made his 8th appearance for Oakland tonight. He gave up no runs on a pair of hits in an inning of work on Tuesday.