Norris: 'I took advantage of a hanging changeup over the middle'
Derek Norris' 4th home run of the season proved to be the difference as the A's beat the Cubs 8-7. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
OAKLAND – Derek Norris hit a three-run go-ahead home run with two outs in the eighth inning to bail out A.J. Griffin and give the A’s an 8-7 win over the Chicago Cubs.
With the comeback victory, the A’s moved past the Texas Rangers for first place in the American League West and have won five of their last six games.
After an ugly start from Griffin, the A’s bullpen kept the game close and set the stage for Norris, hitting below the Mendoza Line this season, to be the hero du jour.
Starting pitching report
Coming off his first career shutout, A.J. Griffin was in control out of the gate. He threw first-pitch strikes to five of the first seven batters he faced in the first two innings. He struck out two batters each in the first and third and allowed only a Dioner Navarro double over that span.
The Cubs got to Griffin in the fourth, though, as Starlin Castro led off with an infield single. Griffin followed by shattering Nate Schierholtz’s bat, but the former Giant sent the ball deep enough into shallow right that second baseman Jed Lowrie could not complete an over-the-shoulder catch. Both Castro and Schierholtz moved up on a wild pitch and came around to score when Alfonso Soriano launched an 88 MPH fastball from Griffin over the centerfield wall for a game-tying home run.
Griffin’s nightmare fourth inning was far from over. Following Soriano’s shot, he walked Anthony Rizzo before recording his first out of the frame by punching out Navarro. But Rizzo would move up to third on Brian Bogusevic’s single and trot home on Darwin Barney’s deep sacrifice fly to left. Another wild pitch moved Bogusevic into scoring position and Wellington Castillo made Griffin pay for the mistake with fourth single of the inning. The Cubs batted around when Luis Valbuena hit the fifth single before Castro flew out to right to put an end to the ugly frame.
Griffin allowed five runs on six hits and a walk and threw 40 pitches in the fourth. He took his time walking off the field, as all three outfielders beat him back to the A’s dugout.
A’s manager Bob Melvin sent Griffin back out for the fifth inning and was rewarded with a 1-2-3 inning. But the Cubs knocked Griffin out of the game in the sixth. Two singles fell in front of centerfielder Chris Young to lead off the inning. With one out, Castillo sent a ball over Young’s head for a double and a 7-5 Cubs lead. Even though Castillo was caught between second and third, leaving the bases empty, Melvin opted to turn the ball over to his bullpen.
Griffin set a new career-high with 10 hits allowed and tied his career-high with seven earned runs. He walked one, struck out six and threw 63 of his 99 pitches for strikes.
Left-hander Jerry Blevins came into the game with two outs in the sixth and the bases empty and gave up a single to Valbuena, then retired the next four Cubs he faced in order, three by strikeout.
Right-hander Dan Otero took over for Blevins in the eighth and worked around two singles to keep the A’s deficit at two and ended up with the win thanks to Norris.
Grant Balfour, already warming up before the A’s erased a two-run deficit in the bottom of the eighth, erased a leadoff walk with a strike-‘em-out, throw-‘em-out double play and finished off the Cubs by getting Schierholtz to hit into a routine ground ball to second. The save was Balfour’s 20th straight of 2013 and 38th consecutive dating back to last season.
At the plate
The A’s wasted little time taking advantage of a pitcher who hasn’t faced major league hitters since 2012. After Cubs lefty Chris Rusin set down Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie to open the first, he ran into trouble with the A’s big bats. Yoenis Cespedes singled and Josh Donaldson followed with a mammoth home run to left, which he celebrated with a small bat flip and a quick break to admire the trajectory.
Chris Young, heating up over his last nine games following a dreadful 4-for-49 (.082) stretch, made it 3-0 A’s in the second with a solo shot to left.
After watching Griffin blow the early lead in the top of the fourth, the A’s picked him up with a rally in the bottom half, aided by a blooper.
Carlos Villanueva took over for Rusin with one out in the fourth and promptly walked Derek Norris. With a right-hander now on the mound, Melvin took out Adam Rosales for Eric Sogard, who hit a towering fly ball to left. Alfonso Soriano got a bad break and took a terrible route, but was calling for the ball and in position to make the catch when Starlin Castro ran into him and sent the ball away from both players toward the line. Norris moved up to third and Sogard ended up at second as Cubs manager Dale Sveum wore an expression of disbelief in the dugout. Crisp made the Cubs pay for the error with a single through the right side of the infield to score Norris and Sogard and knot the game at 5-5. The A’s threat ended when first base umpire Larry Vanover ruled Crisp out of the basepath as he dodged a tag following a pick-off throw to first.
Vanover made two more judgment calls that went against the A’s in the fifth as well. Cespedes and Donaldson both hit routine balls to shortstop that Castro turned into close plays with a lackadaisical approach. While the Cespedes call can be excused because it was a bang-bang play, replays clearly showed Donaldson was safe.
After the A’s went down in order in the sixth and seventh, they got the go-ahead run to the plate in the eighth. With Donaldson at second and Josh Reddick at first, Derek Norris hit his fifth home run of the season on a 2-2 pitch from left-hander James Russell, the son of former A’s pitcher Jeff Russell. Norris, who entered the game with a .195 batting average, sent his shot just over the 388-foot marker in left-centerfield and turned a 7-5 deficit into an 8-7 lead.
In the field
Josh Reddick ranged far to his left and battled the sun before making a basket catch on Alfonso Soriano’s sinking line drive in the second inning.
Attendance The A’s announced a crowd of 17,273 fans, including an impressive number of faithful supporters of the ‘Lovable Losers’ coming out for the Cubs’ first game in Oakland in franchise history.
The A’s continue their three-game series with the Chicago Cubs Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. with RHP Bartolo Colon (11-2, 2.79 ERA) starting opposite RHP Matt Garza (3-1, 3.82 ERA).