Programming note: Nationals-A’s coverage starts Sunday at 12:30 p.m. with A’s Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California (Channel locations)
OAKLAND – With so much talk about the hot-hitting Derek Norris and whether he should be in the lineup every day, sometimes his catching platoon partner gets lost in the conversation.
John Jaso forced his way into the discussion Saturday night, and it was hard to talk about anybody else after the A’s improbable 4-3 comeback victory over the Washington Nationals.
Oakland seemed content with bowing out as quickly as possibly against Nationals starter Tanner Roark, and letting a sellout crowd of 36,067 get treated to a Journey-themed fireworks show as quickly as possible.
Then the bottom of the ninth hit.
“It’s strange how a pitcher can get on a roll like their starting pitcher did, and where everything that’s put in play is getting caught,” Jaso said. “Those kinds of days, that’s when you want to get in the bullpen and kind of change up the momentum.”
The A’s trailed 3-1 in the ninth and Washington trotted out closer Rafael Soriano, owner of 19 consecutive saves converted and a 25-inning scoreless streak. Jaso, who had homered for the A’s first run in the third, led off the ninth with a single and scored on Jed Lowrie’s double. Oakland would tie it on Josh Donaldson’s RBI single and Jaso would win it in the 10th, ripping the first pitch he saw from Drew Storen for a double to score pinch runner Nick Punto and give the A’s their third walk-off victory of 2014.
Jaso stood before reporters at his locker afterward, his undershirt still stained by the whipped cream pie he was splattered with during his postgame TV interview.
“It was awesome,” Jaso said. “I’m just so glad it was whipped cream and not shaving cream.”
Perhaps he seems out of place in the leadoff spot, where he’s filled in with Coco Crisp sidelined by a neck injury. Perhaps it seems Norris, hitting a scalding .487 over his past 15 games, should be in the lineup over him.
But Jaso is staking his claim to continued playing time with his own hot streak. He’s 12 for 28 (.429) over his past nine games, and he’s homered from the leadoff spot each of the past two nights. His drive off Roark in the third Saturday cleared the wall in right-center, the same spot he targeted Friday night.
“You have a good feeling about him when he’s up there,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said.
Neither Jaso nor Norris have enjoyed any continuity in the starting lineup. That’s what makes it impressive that both are producing right now (and perhaps it justifies the decision to go with the platoon in the first place).
So how are Jaso and Norris both able to stay sharp?
“I think both of us do a good job with the way we take batting practice the day we’re not playing,” Jaso said. “It’s not home run derby time. It’s game-approach kind of situations.”
Jaso had impeccable timing with Saturday’s big night, because it seemed the A’s were going to treat a rare sellout audience to one dud of an overall effort. Jaso’s third-inning homer was the only hit off Roark through the first seven innings for Oakland.
But Roark exited in the eighth, then the A’s broke through in the ninth. Melvin places major emphasis on his team playing well when the Coliseum seats are packed. The script couldn’t have unfolded any better Saturday night for the A’s, who lead Seattle by 2 ½ games for the American League West lead and go for a sweep Sunday.
“It looked like we were a dead team, going three up, three down,” Jaso said. “But to come back, tie it up in the ninth and then walk it off in extras, it was awesome for the fans and great to have all the energy there.”