Norris leads A’s offensive outburst in 10-5 win over Yankees

Published: Sunday, Jun. 15, 2014 - 7:24 pm

OAKLAND -- Derek Norris has seven home runs this season. Five of them have been hit with at least two men on base, including his three-run homer in the first inning of the A's 10-5 win over the Yankees on Sunday, in which he replaced slumping Josh Donaldson in the cleanup spot and took the assignment literally.

Norris also hit a pair of three-run homers against the Washington Nationals on May 11 -- Mother's Day. Sunday, of course, was Father's Day.

"I guess he's got a close relationship with his parents," A's manager Bob Melvin said.

Norris grinned at the coincidence and said, "I don't know if that's exactly how I planned it out. But regardless, it was nice to go out there and get the bats going after, as a whole, we've kind of been in a little bit of a slump."

The A's, who had scored one or fewer runs in four of nine games, collected 12 hits while scoring double-digit runs against the Yankees for the first time since July 1, 2007. Norris had three of the hits, finishing a triple shy of the cycle. He had a chance for it in the ninth but flew out to right field.

"I think someone would have to fall down and break their leg for me to get all the way to third," Norris said.

There was no need in his first at-bat Sunday, as he hammered a 3-1 slider from Yankees left-hander Vidal Nuno over the wall in left-center to give the A's a 3-0 lead. Donaldson was bumped down to the sixth spot in the order for the first time all season for a "change of scenery," Melvin said, allowing Norris his first career start in the No. 4 spot.

It was a logical move. Norris entered the game batting .364 on the season against lefties with 20 of his 26 RBIs and a 1.070 OPS. He added to those numbers with the first of the A's two three-run homers against Nuno. Coco Crisp hit the other in the second inning, a line-drive that cleared the wall in left for his first homer this season from the right side.

"It's good to see," Melvin said. "We haven't been swinging the bats as well as we were earlier, and certainly not the power portion of it."

The A's had hit just one home run in their previous five games before Sunday, following a stretch of 16 consecutive games with at least one. They still rank second in the A.L. in homers on the season, now with 79. "We've made ourselves a little more well-rounded in the last couple years," Norris said. "But whenever we're hitting homers, we're winning."

Despite the A's 12-hit day, the struggles of some of their top hitters persist. Donaldson snapped a 33-at-bat hitless streak in the fifth, but grounded out in his three other at-bats. Shortstop Jed Lowrie went hitless in four at-bats and is now 2 for his last 33. John Jaso, who did not play Sunday, is riding a streak of 21 at-bats without a hit.

But the A's are mostly weathering those slumps. They outscored the Yankees in the final two games of this series, 15-6, and improved to 42-27, their best record through 69 games since the 1990 season. After being shut out in the series opener to the Yankees, they enter a series against the division rival Rangers on a positive note.

Norris, who set the tone for that early Sunday, said his father, Russ, wasn't on hand to see the home run -- he was visiting Norris' brother in Kansas City. Norris said he'd called his dad before the game, but they didn't talk baseball. With Norris' performance on Mother's Day, the catcher said, "I'm sure once I talk to him after the game now he'll probably be like, 'Hey, why didn't you hit two?'"

In seriousness, Norris said, his father was "probably more impressed" with his line-drive single to right field in the A's four-run fourth than with the home run.

"That was always his thing growing up, 'Got the opposite way, can't be a pull monster,'" Norris said. "I'm sure he'll be like, 'I was digging that line drive to right.' I'm sure that's exactly what he'll say."

• The beneficiary of the support Sunday was right-hander Jesse Chavez, who allowed one run in six innings while beating the Yankees for the second time in 11 days. After making five starts in April alone where he allowed one or fewer runs while completing at least six innings, Chavez did so for the first time since April 30 on Sunday.

"Today was, I thought, similar to what we were seeing real early in the season," Melvin said. "Cutter both sides of the plate, good curveball to create a gap between the hard stuff and the off-speed stuff. ... This was the type of outing we were seeing early in the year, where he was really knifing through teams."

Chavez, who had posted a 4.07 ERA in seven starts in May and June, said he did a better job Sunday of staying down in the zone and putting away hitters when he got ahead in the count. He also issued no walks for the first time since April 14. Both allowed him to keep his pitch count down, and he exited after six with just 87 pitches.

Melvin said the A's big lead allowed him to pull Chavez after six in the interest of saving some pitches for a long season. "If he gets close to 200 innings -- he's never been there before," Melvin said. "So there'll be times when I'm looking to try to pull the plug and shorten outings for him."

• Donaldson snapped his career-long hitless streak at 33 at-bats with an RBI single in the fourth on a chopper through the right side. It wasn't even close to being the hardest ball he hit Sunday, but that's the way things are going right now for the third baseman. Still, Melvin said, getting the "0-fer" off his back was "good to see."

"It's a difficult thing to go through," Melvin said. "It's one thing if you're not a very good player; it's another thing when you're one of the elite players in the game and you're going through a struggle like that. It wears on you."

• The A's training staff had a busy afternoon jogging between the dugout and home plate area. In a scary moment in the fourth, reliever Jose Ramirez hit Craig Gentry in the head with the bases loaded, sending Gentry briefly to the ground. Gentry remained in the game and said later he "was a little shaky" but felt "fine" after the game.

"Anytime the ball hits you in the head, yeah it's scary," Gentry said. "Good thing it wasn't a fastball."

Melvin said the A's are especially cautious with blows to the head given their history in those situations, specifically Brandon McCarthy's injury in 2012. But Melvin said that Gentry "recovered well, and talked his way into staying in the game."

Norris also got a visit from the trainer after Yangervis Solarte caught his catching hand with a backswing in the ninth inning. Melvin said the bat caught Norris "on the back of the hand, not on the knuckle," and Norris also stayed in the game.

"Hand's good," Norris said afterward. "Just needed a minute for the pain to kind of ride out and go away."

Finally, home plate umpire Dale Scott took a shot to the arm on a pitch that nicked off of Norris' glove. Following the theme, Scott stayed in the game.

• The A's paid tribute to Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter before the game, presenting the future Hall of Famer -- who has said he'll retire after the season -- with a bottle of wine customized to commemorate this series, a stay at a Napa Valley resort and a check for Jeter's "Turn 2" foundation -- in the amount of $10,002.

Barring these teams meeting in the playoffs, Sunday was Jeter's final game in Oakland in a 20-year career. He was roundly applauded before his first at-bat in the game, and when he doubled in the sixth inning, later scoring the Yankees' only run off Chavez when Mark Teixeira also doubled.

Jeter also drove in a run in the seventh with a sacrifice fly before being taken out in the bottom of the inning for a defensive replacement. So a fly ball to right field could remain the final image of the shortstop in Oakland, where he'll arguably be best remembered for "The Flip" to dash the A's World Series hopes in 2001, but also hit .338 in regular-season games for his career.

"Very few people can you say have meant as much to the game as he has," said Melvin, who along with hitting coach Chili Davis -- both one-time teammates of Jeter -- presented the shortstop with his gifts before the game. "The game forgets in a hurry when you go away. A guy like that, not so much."

• This game was not as close as the score will indicate, but the Yankees scored a minor victory in the ninth by forcing Melvin to use Luke Gregerson to record the final out. Jim Johnson had started the inning with a 10-3 lead, but allowed a two-run homer to Brett Gardner with two outs and then gave up a walk and single to the next two batters.

Johnson has now allowed 13 runs (12 earned) over 14 innings in his last 15 outings, and his ERA is 6.18. No doubt Melvin would have liked to see Johnson finish out the ninth, but with the Yankees one swing from making it a two-run game, he instead had to use Gregerson, with Sean Doolittle up and throwing as well.

• The A's next host their division rivals the Rangers, who are eight back in the A.L. West despite a rash of injuries. Melvin before the game credited the Rangers for holding things together as well as they have -- they enter the series 34-35. The pitching probables:

Monday: LHP Drew Pomeranz (5-3, 1.90) vs. RHP Colby Lewis (4-4, 5.74)

Tuesday: LHP Tommy Milone (4-3, 3.47) vs. RHP Yu Darvish (7-2, 2.11)

Wednesday: RHP Sonny Gray (6-3, 2.93) vs. RHP Nick Tepesch (2-2, 3.94)


Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.

Read more articles by Matt Kawahara



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