OAKLAND He didn't blast the walk-off home run, didn't get a hit, didn't even know what his starting pitcher looked like before he arrived at the ballpark.
But River Cats catcher Derek Norris er, make that former River Cats catcher Derek Norris was left scratching his scraggly beard and shaking his head at Thursday's wild turn of events.
These were the A's. These were the A's sweeping the Dodgers. That was a rookie (Yoenis Cespedes) slamming the game winner over the 330-foot sign in left field. That was Norris, in his major league debut, coaxing a career performance out of Travis Blackley and throwing out Dee Gordon in the ninth inning.
On a chilly afternoon at O.co Coliseum, this was also Norris' chance to make a play for veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki's job, or at least to change the dynamic. A trade. A benching. Whatever. These A's are always full of surprises.
Though Norris was a principal in the offseason deal that sent All-Star pitcher Gio Gonzalez to the Washington Nationals, the original plan was to let him have a full season in Triple A before promoting him.
Suzuki's offensive struggles, however, accelerated the process. Suzuki's once- respectable numbers have declined annually, with his average dipping to .215 this season. He also has the lowest on-base (.256) and slugging (.268) percentages in the majors, and he hasn't hit a home run since last September.
While the situation is awkward Suzuki is a five-year veteran and a calming, dynamic presence in the clubhouse A's manager Bob Melvin plans to give Norris a long, serious look.
"The catcher of the present and the guy who is potentially your catcher of the future have to coexist," Melvin said bluntly. "It's different, but we feel as an organization, this is what we're best-suited for right now."
Though Suzuki, 28, will return to start tonight against the Giants, he has to be hearing footsteps. Norris is younger (23) and cheaper (with the A's, always a factor), has hinted at an ability to hit with power and was impressive behind the plate.
How many rookie catchers can say they threw Gordon out as the Dodgers speedster tried to steal second base in the ninth inning of a 1-1 game?
"That throw was perfect," said A's second baseman Jemile Weeks. "First-base side. Waist high, maybe even at my knee. If he puts that ball anywhere else, that's a tougher tag and a lot easier to drop."
Norris also can say he almost, but not quite, got two hits off Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw. Norris grounded into a double play in his first at-bat but later drove a ball that was chased down by Tony Gwynn Jr. in center field and ripped a rising liner that a leaping Juan Uribe snagged at third.
Norris, a native of Goddard, Kan., knew something was amiss when River Cats manager Darren Bush held him out of the lineup Wednesday, offering few details, then asked him to sub for team mascot Dinger on Thursday.
"I was like, 'Really?' " said Norris, who hit .273 for the River Cats. "I wasn't going to say 'No.' He's the manager. But then he called me last night and told me I was going to Oakland. I didn't get much sleep."
His day began with a gnarly 6 a.m. commute from Sacramento, continued with a brief introduction in the A's clubhouse including a chat with the disappointed but typically gracious Suzuki and an even briefer communication with his mother, Jacque, who arrived at the ballpark during batting practice. "I saw her in the stands and waved," said Norris.
He smiled frequently as he sat at his locker afterward, in no hurry to leave. Smiled. Grinned. Shook his head in disbelief. Occasionally, he ran his fingers through his dark, inch-long beard, the remnants of a lingering rebellious streak.
"The Nationals had a no-facial-hair policy," said the burly 6-foot, 225-pound right-hander, "so when I left, I sort of embraced this (beard)."
The A's, of course, will embrace anybody who can hit. They rank near the bottom of the majors in batting, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and runs. Yet, somewhat remarkably, Tim Lincecum and the Giants catch the A's on the upswing tonight. Thursday's victory makes it eight wins in nine games.
Suddenly, these are the A's: Blackley throwing a three-hitter over eight innings. Cespedes healthy again and crushing balls. Coco Crisp and Weeks setting the scene with their speed in the ninth. Norris putting pressure on Suzuki.
"I thought he called a terrific game," Melvin said. "After the first inning, I didn't see too many shake-offs. He really looked confident behind the plate. For a guy catching his first game, you certainly wouldn't have thought that."