Derek Norris helps A’s maintain division lead
O.CO COLISEUM — Balfour rage is back in Oakland.
After a lengthy ten innings, the coliseum’s right field bleacher section showed their respect for the former A’s closer. Then cheered as Oakland broke the tie, won it 3-2 and regained sole possession of first place in the AL West.
Outfielder Sam Fuld hit a blooper to shallow center in the game’s most clutch moment. Then he stole second. John Jaso, batting next, walked after getting beat early, sporting through two strikes for the majority of his at bat.
Another walk, in a similar scenario, sent Josh Donaldson to first on balls, but Brandon Moss went down swinging. Catcher Derek Norris stepped to the plate.
Norris hit a dribbler between short and second base, sending in Fuld and ending the game.
“I had opportunities tonight to put the ball in play, especially in the first inning. I was, for a lack of better words, really irritated with myself. [...] I was preaching the other day about our situational hitting and there I was in the limelight trying to come through.”
Starter Jeff Samardzija didn’t factor in the decision, though his line (7 IP, 3 K, 2 ER, 5 H) is a primary reason the A’s were able to take it to extra innings.
The Rays didn’t struggle to make their own throws, as starter Alex Cobb (5 2/3 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 4 K) pitched well in the clutch and stranded several Oakland baserunners.
Norris had reason to be concerned about situational hitting during a few games this season, but Monday evening was particularly bad. Oakland stranded a season high 18 runners, which is mind-blowing since they only racked up 10 hits.
The patience at the plate, with five walks coming in the four innings after Cobb left the mound, paid off in the end.
Perhaps the biggest moment of the game came from a mammal without a name, or a uniform. A possum, which the A’s have seen at least once before, was spotted by a few members of the team.
Samardzija had a laugh when he said:
“We’re going to have to give him a name, or a jersey — something.”
Manager Bob Melvin thought it was a big rat, as did other members of the team. Melvin laughed as well when asked about it, and said:
“You never know what you’re going to get out here.”
Certainly the one thing the A’s got was what mattered most. With the Angels defeating the Dodgers down in Southern California, a loss would have meant a first place tie in the American League West. And that’s something the A’s can ill afford as long as their offense is struggling.
The win, though, came with some extra irony.
Balfour has had his share of crazy moments with Oakland, and it may be fitting that the guy who used to catch him was the guy to beat him.
What’s more, “Balfour rage,” a celebration that used to include Metallica and some heavy-metal-like head swaying was in full effect. Short of the Metallica, at least.
A fan favorite for years, Balfour would often allow base runners, ratcheting up the intensity past 90 decibels. And usually, he’d get out of the jam.
But not this time.
Norris saw the fans in right field paying their respect, and gave a proverbial tip of the cap.
On his game winning tip of the cap, though, Norris said:
“It was just good that I could come up and finally get the game over. [...] It was a hard-fought ballgame with both sides. Both sides pitched real well, Cobb after the first inning. Samardzija pitched real well. Bullpen was outstanding once again. It was a hard-fought ballgame, both sides really wanted that win.”
The win, Oakland’s 68th of the season, ensures more than just first place in their division.
The win ensured, at least for one more game, that Oakland can face solid pitching and still come out victorious after trading away Yoenis Cespedes on the July 31 trade deadline.
And that they can still, even without Cespedes, create walk-off magic. Monday’s game was the eighth walk-off win of the season, the first such hit of 2014 for Norris.
The A’s are 2-2 on this 10-game homestand, after a 1-2 lost series versus the Kansas City Royals, and have two more games against Tampa with another four against the Minnesota Twins.
Jed Lowrie (3 for 4, rbi, bb) collected a season-high tying three hits and is batting .337 with 13 runs scored, eight doubles, one triple and 11 RBI over his last 24 games.
Rays manager Joe Maddon was ejected from the game in the bottom of the tenth inning by first base umpire Quinn Wolcott, on a play where Donaldson checked his swing. A replay revealed that Donaldson did go around, and both Maddon and Balfour made postgame comments that may leave the pair a little lighter in the wallet.