Norris: 'I took advantage of a hanging changeup over the middle'
Derek Norris followed his go-ahead home run with a clutch throw to catch Luis Valbuena stealing in the ninth inning. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
OAKLAND – Derek Norris went from bench warmer to hero, all thanks to a pregame trade.
Bob Melvin confirmed after his A’s completed an 8-7 comeback win that Norris wasn’t going to be in the starting lineup against scheduled Cubs starter Scott Feldman. But when Chicago shipped Feldman to the Baltimore Orioles and started southpaw Chris Rusin instead, Melvin penciled Norris and his .195 batting average into the starting lineup.
After hitting a go-ahead three-run home run Tuesday, Norris is now batting 5-for-13 (.385) with runners in scoring position and two outs this season, including two big flies and nine RBI.
“He does his best work late in games with runners in scoring position,” Melvin said. “He’s gotten big hits for us since he got here last year. If you’re going to get a few hits in certain situations, obviously the bigger situations are the type of things that get the respect of your teammates and gives us the confidence that when he comes up in big situations, he’s going to come through.”
Norris was in the position to come through in the eighth thanks to Josh Donaldson, who snapped a streak of seven straight hitless at-bats for the A’s with his leadoff single, and Josh Reddick, who forced Cubs manager Dale Sveum to turn to left-hander James Russell. Reddick greeted the son of former A’s pitcher Jeff Russell by working a walk and Norris followed by sending the younger Russell’s 2-2 changeup over the 388-foot marker in left-centerfield.
“That’s what we do when we’re at our best is we make a pitcher work,” Melvin said. “And sometimes the big at-bat of the inning isn’t necessarily the one where somebody knocks one in. It could be to set somebody up, work a guy, draw a walk, tire him out or whatever. When we’re at our best we’re making the pitchers work and if they make a mistake, a lot of times we take advantage when we’re in that mode.”
Norris took advantage to the tune of his fourth home run and while it wasn’t a walk-off, the A’s clubhouse had the same feel it does after an on-field pie fight.
Norris sat at his stall in the middle of it all and explained to reporters that he found out about the Cubs’ trade via Twitter and seeing his name in the starting lineup “was like a breath of fresh air.”
The A’s backstop, acquired in the Gio Gonzalez trade, also said he was surprised Sveum didn’t bring in a right-hander to face him with the game on the line. When the Cubs’ skipper stuck with Russell, Norris knew he had to take advantage.
“I told myself don’t miss it if you get it. Fortunately I got a decent pitch to hit and made the most of what he gave me. Just got underneath it just enough to carry out of the ballpark.”
Norris’ work wasn’t done after he crossed home plate as the go-ahead run, though. Grant Balfour walked leadoff man Luis Valbuena in the ninth inning, but Norris bailed Balfour out by gunning down Valbuena at second to complete a ‘strike-‘em-out, throw-em-out’ double play.
“Balf wasn’t his typical self as far as control,” Norris said. “I was just looking for a way to get through the inning and get him out of it. He stepped up and made the pitches he needed to make.”
Balfour bore down for his 38th consecutive save dating back to last season, completing the comeback win that erased the memories of starter A.J. Griffin’s nightmare fourth inning, in which he allowed five runs on six hits and a walk.
“You can’t say enough about how we all work together as one,” Norris said. “When our offense is struggling, our pitching comes through and does a great job. And the rare times when our pitching struggles a little bit, our offense picks up. I think that’s what makes us such a dangerous team.”
With the Texas Rangers losing Tuesday, the dangerous A’s now lead the American League West by a half-game. Their 49-35 record is the best by an A’s team after 84 games since 1990.
Norris thinks the best is yet to come.
“I think we’re going to make a pretty good run here in the second half.”