OAKLAND – Give credit to the rally possum. Or maybe the ex-teammate who lost the strike zone.
Or perhaps just the law of averages, which held that the A’s, eventually, had to avoid shooting themselves in the foot with the bases loaded.
Whatever the case, the A’s somehow took a night of offensive frustration and parlayed it into a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday, a much-needed win for a team that’s been reeling of late.
It’s not often a team strands 18 base runners and ends the night in celebration. But that was the case after Derek Norris stepped up to face former A’s closer Grant Balfour with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the 10th. Balfour had walked two to help load the bases, and Norris grounded a slow roller that made it through to center field to give the A’s their 11th extra-inning win this season.
That came during a rally in which a possum was caught on T.V. cameras wandering along the wall in the left field corner as Sam Fuld was hitting.
Apparently it wasn’t just a cameo appearance.
“He's been out here before,” starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. “He was out here when we were warming up a few times. We're going to have to give him a name or give him a jersey or something.”
Not stuff that you see every day, but somehow it fits perfectly in the narrative of O.co Coliseum, which always finds the spotlight in the most bizarre fashion.
“I thought it was a really large rat,” Norris said, “which would fit perfectly with the way things have kind of shaped up the last few years here.”
The victory maintained the A’s one-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels, though they haven’t exactly cured their recent offensive woes. The 18 stranded runners topped the previous season high of 14, and they went 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position, including three blown bases-loaded opportunities before the 10th.
Cleanup man Brandon Moss went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and is now hitting .170 (15-for-88) over his last 22 games.
Despite all of that, the A’s pulled out the opener of this three-game series by pinning a loss on Balfour, a fan favorite for two division-winning A’s teams who left as a free agent over the winter.
When he entered a 2-2 game in the 10th, the rowdies in the right field seats began the “Balfour Rage”. All that was missing was Metallica’s “One” blaring over the P.A., the song that Balfour entered to when wearing green and gold.
The overly enthusiastic reception that Balfour got from the bleacher folks struck Norris as somewhat curious given that he’s now wearing an opposing uniform.
“I’m not really sure what that was,” Norris said. “Maybe they’d been waiting the last five months to do that, I’m not sure. He was a fan favorite here. … Fans are fans. They’re gonna get excited about strange things. They’re supporting us, which is the biggest thing. You can’t fault ‘em for showing appreciation for one of their favorite players over the last few years.”
Balfour was ticked, and true to character, frank with his comments after the narrow defeat. He was not happy that Josh Donaldson was not called out on a check-swing appeal in the 10th (Rays manager Joe Maddon was ejected on the play). Balfour apparently also wasn’t thrilled that a foul pop-up that hung in the air a long time near the right-field line wound up falling safely to the ground as Rays defenders converged.
Donaldson wound up walking to load the bases.
“It’s tough when you got to get five outs sometimes,” Balfour said. “That’s all I’ll say. We got beat by a good team, and it’s tough when you’ve got to get five outs. That’s all I’ll say. Let’s leave it at that, otherwise I’ll be saying the wrong thing.”
In one clubhouse they were steamed. In the other, they were rejoicing despite some ugly stats that usually point the way to defeat.
The A’s won’t waste time analyzing Monday’s events. They’ve got enough to do, like finding the right jersey size for that possum.