OAKLAND – There was white-knuckle drama in the late innings with Grant Balfour on the mound, not an uncommon occurrence at the Coliseum.
The script was flipped, however, as the A’s pulled out a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays by beating their former closer in the bottom of the 10th. Derek Norris poked a bases-loaded single up the middle with two outs to score Sam Fuld and help the A’s end a night of offensive frustration with the bases full.
The count was 0-2 when Norris hit a roller that crept through the infield off Balfour, who left Oakland via free agency over the offseason after two seasons closing for the two-time defending American League West champions.
Balfour issued two walks to aid Oakland’s rally, including a controversial check-swing appeal on Josh Donaldson with two strikes that resulted in Rays manager Joe Maddon getting ejected.
The bizarre night included a fan sprinting on to the field before security finally tackled him in center field, and a possum that scurried along the wall in left field during the A’s winning rally. Just another nutty night at the Coliseum.
The A’s had failed to score three previous times with the bases loaded.
Starting pitching report
The bullpen rested quietly until well into the night, as Jeff Samardzija lasted seven innings and held the Rays to two runs on five hits. He allowed a leadoff homer to Evan Longoria in the second, when he fell behind 2-0 and then piped a fastball.
The Rays got to him for another in the fifth, rallying with two outs to break a 1-1 tie. Kevin Kiermaier split the gap in left-center with a hit that left fielder Brandon Moss couldn’t cut off. It went for a triple, and Desmond Jennings then got around on a 97 mile-per-hour fastball and singled sharply to left to give Tampa Bay the lead.
Samardzija has thrown seven or more innings in five of his six starts with Oakland and has posted a 3.09 ERA.
Ryan Cook got the victory by delivering a 1-2-3 top of the 10th.
At the plate
Rays starter Alex Cobb provided every opportunity for the A’s to get rolling early. He walked the bases loaded with one out in the first, but Derek Norris flied out to shallow right and Josh Reddick grounded out to second. Oakland loaded the bases again in the second, this time with two outs, but Josh Donaldson grounded out to shortstop. Through his first two innings, Cobb issued four walks and hit a batter but the A’s couldn’t scratch out a run.
They did break through in the bottom of the third, trailing 1-0. Josh Reddick beat the shift by taking a single the opposite way with two outs, then Jed Lowrie mashed a double off the top of the right field wall that brought Reddick around from first.
The A’s tied it again in the sixth when Donaldson grounded a two-out single up the middle that scored Eric Sogard for a 2-2 game.
Another bases-loaded opportunity came and went in the seventh, a sequence that included Coco Crisp making his first appearance in a game since July 26, as he drew a pinch-hit walk. Sam Fuld struck out on a fastball from Brad Boxberger with the bases full to keep it 2-2.
In the field
It looked as though a fielding error from shortstop Jed Lowrie might doom the A’s in the top of the ninth. With closer Sean Doolittle on the mound, Lowrie let Yunel Escobar’s sharp grounder deflect off his glove to put runners on the corners with one out. But Doolittle and Norris then teamed up on a terrific play, as Doolittle fielded a squeeze bunt from Brandon Guyer and flipped home in time for Norris to apply a sweeping tag on James Loney.
The announced turnout was 18,479.
Can Jason Hammel (0-4, 9.53) turn things around? He’ll take the ball in Tuesday’s 7:05 p.m. contest, with lefty Drew Smyly (6-9, 3.93) making his first start for Tampa Bay after coming over from Detroit in the David Price trade. The last time Hammel won a game after the All-Star break was back on Aug. 13, 2011. That’s a span of 21 post-break appearances (13 starts).