The A’s authored a happy ending to their afternoon thanks to Derek Norris’ extra-inning heroics. But they’ve still got one whale of an issue to confront at the back of their bullpen.
Norris blasted a three-run homer in the top of the 11th to send the A’s to a 7-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Target Field on Wednesday. Oakland only needed that because the wheels once again came off for closer Jim Johnson in the ninth inning.
Minnesota trailed 4-2 entering the bottom of the ninth but scored two runs charged to Johnson to send the game to extras.
Things had seemed to correct themselves for Johnson after he took defeats in both of his first two outings to start the season. He followed up that turbulence with two scoreless outings. But after he failed to finish off the ninth Wednesday, the A’s have to decide whether it’s time to turn to someone else in their loaded bullpen to nail down victories.
Dan Otero relieved Johnson and pitched the final 2 2/3 innings to close out the win.
What looked like a routine victory for Oakland turned into an emotionally charged afternoon. Minnesota’s tying rally in the ninth included two instant replay reviews on close plays that went in favor of the Twins.
In the top of the 10th, Josh Donaldson and Twins reliever Glen Perkins got into a jawing match that emptied both benches and bullpens but didn’t result in any fighting.
In the end, the A’s bagged their third straight victory. But it required a lot more stress and worry than it should have.
Starting pitching report
If there was a question mark about Jesse Chavez’s readiness for starting duty, he’s erased it over his first two starts. His seven innings were a career high, and the only run he gave up came on a solo homer from Kubel in the second, with the A’s already leading 4-0. It was an absolute shame he didn’t walk away with a victory.
Chavez struck out a career-high nine, gave up just six hits and didn’t issue a single walk. The right-hander showed command of all of his pitches, keeping hitters off-balance all afternoon. Besides Kubel’s homer, Minnesota didn’t advance a runner past second base off Chavez. He spotted his cutter on the corners. He got the Twins to chase his slider. And he finished especially strong in the seventh, getting Chris Herrmann looking on a 92 mile-per-hour fastball and freezing Aaron Hicks with a cutter for strike three to end his day.
A’s starters have allowed three runs or less in each of the first eight games, and the rotation is carrying a 2.02 ERA (11 ER in 49 IP).
Johnson came in having converted all five of his career save opportunities against the Twins. But this is no typical year so far for the right-hander. He blew his second save opportunity in three tries to go with two losses he’s also taken on the young season. He appeared to get back on track with two scoreless outings to end the last homestand, but he went off the rails again after entering a 4-2 game in the ninth Wednesday.
Johnson allowed a single and walk to start the inning. After a popped up bunt, he walked Aaron Hicks to load the bases. Eduardo Escobar then singled to left to score a run, and Kurt Suzuki was ruled safe at third on a close force play that initiated a review. Johnson was pulled in favor of Dan Otero, who coaxed Brian Dozier into a fly ball to right. Josh Reddick threw a strike to home, but Suzuki scored the tying run with an excellent slide to avoid Derek Norris’ tag. The umpires asked for review on that play, and again it was upheld in the Twins’ favor. That sent the game to extras.
Things began taking a bad turn for Oakland when Sean Doolittle entered in the eighth and served up Dozier’s homer to make it 4-2.
At the plate
Twins starter Phil Hughes was more than willing to help Oakland’s cause early. He walked Sam Fuld and Jed Lowrie to start the game and he paid for it. Josh Donaldson doubled home a run with a shot to right-center, Brandon Moss delivered a two-run single to left. Yoenis Cespedes’ double down the left-field line kept Hughes on the ropes and Alberto Callaspo made it 4-0 wit ha single to left. Hughes didn’t record his first out until his 39th pitch, when he struck out John Jaso.
But the A’s went silent after the first inning until Norris crushed his three-run shot off Jared Burton.
Donaldson’s bat appears to be warming up – he’s doubled three times in the series. Callaspo came into the game 4 for 9 and took advantage of drawing a start as the designated hitter. Moss has nine RBI through eight games.
In the field
The bats were the story early on for Oakland, but there was noteworthy stuff defensively too. Third baseman Josh Donaldson ranged left and made a sliding stop on Kurt Suzuki’s grounder, recovered and made the throw to first. Then in the sixth, Chavez got some help after the Twins were threatening. Jason Kubel singled to center and Trevor Plouffe unwisely tried to go first to third with two outs. Sam Fuld’s two-bouncer throw was in plenty of time, and Donaldson did well coming off the bag to retrieve the throw and making a diving tag to end the inning.
The A’s conclude a three-game stay in Minnesota with a 10:10 a.m. game Thursday. Dan Straily (0-1, 4.50) opposes Mike Pelfrey (0-1, 5.06).