OAKLAND -- The A's ceded their five-game winning streak and a chance at their first four-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox since 1971 in a 7-6, 10-inning loss on Sunday, but appeared to dodge a bullet regarding the health of catcher Derek Norris, who left the game in the 10th after taking yet another backswing to the head.
Norris was caught flush on the side of the head by Jonathan Herrera's follow-through and stayed down for several minutes while being attended by a trainer. Manager Bob Melvin said afterward that Norris had "no signs of concussion at this point," though the catcher was on his way to a local hospital for a CAT scan.
"I feel fine," Norris said. "Never really got dizzy or anything, responded to all the tests just fine. So I'll go get a CAT scan and rule it all out, that way we can make the trip (to New York) tomorrow and this can be put behind us."
Still, this is not the first time this season Norris has been clipped by a backswing. While he partly wrote it off Sunday as "one of the hazards of the job," he also conceded that this particular instance had left him shaken enough to consider changing where he sets up to receive pitches.
"I think ultimately because the hitters aren't getting any shorter of a backswing, I think I'm going to have to make the adjustment," Norris said. "A tick here and there off the mask or the glove is one thing, but this one got me on a pretty good part of the head and not really the helmet or the mask. So for my own health, I think I'll just have to take a step back."
Melvin, though, wondered whether a step would have been enough in this case.
"Where he's getting hit, even if you're six, eight (inches), a foot back, you're still going to get hit," Melvin said. "I think it's just part of the game these days. ... So it's probably time to look at something as far as protecting the catchers. What, I don't know."
Norris said he isn't sure either what can be done from a hitter's standpoint. "Until crazy rules are invented where you have to have a limited backswing, that's just going to be the way it is," he said.
Some catchers may prefer to be closer to the plate to increase the chances of being able to frame a low strike. It may seem like an easy fix to scoot back from the plate a few inches, but fellow catcher John Jaso pointed out the difficulty for Norris -- or any catcher -- may be more one of breaking with familiarity.
"It would end up being a pretty easy adjustment, I think," Jaso said. "The only thing that would end up being a little hard is the habit, just being aware every single pitch. That's a lot of pitches in a game, and your habits are going to want you to go back to where you normally are.
"It is possible. I think (Norris) is just going to have to fiddle around with that."
As for the game itself, for what looked like a sure thing for the Red Sox when they led 6-1 with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, it certainly got interesting late. Here's how the A's managed to force extras:
- They recorded three consecutive RBI singles with two outs in the eighth off of reliever Burke Badenhop, who hadn't allowed an earned run in 32 1/3 consecutive innings (two of the runners who scored Sunday were inherited and charged to Jon Lester, but Yoenis Cespedes had the first RBI hit off Badenhop and eventually scored).
- Five consecutive hitters reached safely with two outs in the eighth, after Lester hadn't allowed a hit since the fourth. Lester hit Craig Gentry to start the rally, then walked Jed Lowrie as his final hitter before Badenhop entered to face Cespedes.
- Vogt and Jaso hit solo homers in the ninth off closer Koji Uehara, who had converted 31 regular-season save opportunities in a row. Uehara had also allowed just three earned runs all season entering the game, for an ERA of 0.68. It's now 1.30.
- Jaso, who entered as a pinch hitter, spun on an inside fastball on the first pitch he saw from Uehara for his third career pinch-hit home run and second of the season. He also did it April 14 against the Los Angeles Angels.
"That's as hard as we've fought all year," Melvin said. "Testament again to the fight that these guys have."
"It's not surprising," said starter Tommy Milone, who was spared a loss after allowing five runs on eight hits in five innings. "It's what we've been doing all year long. We don't give up until the last out, and you saw it again today."
Jaso said he actually went up against Uehara looking for first-pitch off-speed, not the fastball that he got. "As a catcher I know pinch-hitters coming in get real jumpy, so you start them off slow and they'll go chasing after stuff," he said. "(But) I think he just kind of yanked a fastball into my red zone ... (and I) just kind of reacted to it."
In pinch-hit situations this season, Jaso is now 5-for-10 with two home runs. Asked how he treats those at-bats, Jaso shrugged a little. "Try to keep it professional," he said. "It's just another at-bat in the game. And try not to get too amped up." That much seems like it'd be pretty easy for Jaso, who is, in a word, mellow.
The most talked-about at-bat after Sunday's game, though, was the one that ended it. The A's did so much maneuvering late that they had no position players left on the bench in the 10th. When Norris had to leave the game, designated hitter Josh Donaldson came in to play defense and the A's had to insert the pitcher's spot fifth, where Norris had been.
That left the pitcher's spot due up third in the bottom of the 10th. With two outs, Melvin sent up closer Sean Doolittle to hit for Fernando Abad. Doolittle, of course, was an A's top prospect as a first baseman before injuries precipitated his switch to pitching. But he hadn't had a professional at-bat since 2009 with Triple-A Sacramento.
"He was a little surprised," Melvin said. "But he was all for it."
Doolittle grounded out, but did make contact against Uehara and also drew some praise from Melvin for laying off a tough 0-2 split-finger from Uehara for ball one. He said he was "pretty surprised" when bullpen coach Darren Bush took the call from the dugout in the 10th and told Doolittle to get ready -- to hit.
"He just said, 'Hey, go inside, grab a bat, get some swings in the cage, you're hitting third next inning,'" Doolittle said. "I ran up (to the clubhouse), got maybe 10, 15 swings with (hitting coach Chili Davis) in the cage, and then ran downstairs to be on deck.
"It was very nerve-wracking."
Doolittle said his work in the cage was mostly "making sure I was loose and wasn't going to tweak anything or pull anything if I did swing. ... I was fighting to get my hands going and try to get that swing path back. But it's tough to knock the rust off from three or four years in a matter of 10, 15 swings."
Still, Doolittle said he was glad to get a piece of Uehara's 1-2 pitch -- he didn't want to strike out knowing, as a pitcher now, the feeling of satisfaction that gives to the closer.
"I don't know, I've heard a lot of hype about him the past couple years. It was kind of a letdown," Jaso said, straight-faced. "But he did put it in play, so I'm going to say that was pretty good.
"I feel like if I didn't have an at-bat for four years, I would've done worse. I'll say that."
The A's said Doolittle is the first A's pitcher to pinch-hit since Bob Welch did it 20 years ago -- on May 13, 1994 against the Kansas City Royals.
Milone's five-decision winning streak is still intact, but he wasn't sharp Sunday. He allowed three singles and a walk in a 34-pitch first inning, including Jonny Gomes' two-run hit, and surrendered a leadoff homer to David Ross on the first pitch of the second. Overall, he threw 95 pitches in five innings and just 55 strikes.
"I think the main key was just balls were up," Milone said. "They were able to lift it in the air instead of hitting it on the ground and they were finding holes."
Milone has struggled in his three career starts against Boston, allowing 18 earned runs in 13 2/3 innings, but mostly chalked that up to small sample size.
"One through nine they don't have any weaknesses, so it can be tough," he said. "I feel like, though, if I'm making good pitches, keeping the ball low, I can be successful against them."
The A's are off Monday, as they'll fly to New York for a quick two-game series against the Mets. The pitching probables:
Tuesday: LHP Scott Kazmir (9-2, 2.08) vs. RHP Bartolo Colon (7-5, 3.88)
Wednesday: LHP Brad Mills (0-0, 4.50) vs. RHP Zack Wheeler (3-7, 3.93)
One more thing from Sunday: First baseman Kyle Blanks left the game in the third inning with a left calf strain. In the hectic end of the game, nobody asked Melvin about Blanks' status, but he has been dealing with the calf for a few days now, so he's likely day-to-day.
The A's finished their 10-game homestand against the Yankees, Rangers and Red Sox with a 7-3 record, and still own the best record in the majors at 47-29. They'll spend the next five games in National League parks, so stay tuned to see more pitchers hitting.