OAKLAND -- The A’s on Saturday night were facing a 24-year-old Twins right-hander in Trevor May making his major-league debut, and experiencing the rush of nerves and adrenaline that typically accompanies such a moment. So it was a little surprising to see leadoff hitter Coco Crisp come up in the first inning and swing at the first pitch that May threw, fouling out.
May’s night only got more difficult from there while the A’s, as is their custom, became more patient. May issued two walks in the first inning, including a bases-loaded walk to Derek Norris to force in a run. He escaped that inning when Josh Donaldson was thrown out at home tagging up on a shallow fly ball to left, but then returned for the second and walked five more -- including Norris with the bases loaded again -- three of whom came around to score.
It allowed the A’s to seize an early lead behind Jeff Samardzija, and Stephen Vogt and Norris later homered to put a 9-4 win out of reach. The game ended after 3 hours, 21 minutes, but May’s rough debut had finished long before that. He did not return for the third inning, becoming the first pitcher to get six outs or less and walk seven or more batters in an outing since Tim Stauffer on Aug. 30, 2011.
"Obviously all of us remember our debuts," Norris said. "We all know your brain can get scattered in several different ways. Some guys are able to harness it and unfortunately the kid tonight, he just wasn’t able to harness all the adrenaline stuff that was going on. And we cashed in when we needed to."
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The early damage wasn’t all May’s doing. After Crisp’s at-bat in the first, Sam Fuld hit a single and Josh Donaldson doubled to send him to third. May then walked the next two hitters, making it the first time in 18 games the A’s had scored a run in the first inning. Donaldson also came up with a two-out, two-run single in the second.
Melvin said the A’s reports on May were that he was a strike-thrower in the minors, "But whenever you get a new pitcher, the potential is there for (wildness).
"Couple that with a full house in this park, and it can make you a little nervous, our fans when they get going. So we did a good job laying off some pitches and getting some guys on base and making him work I think we did a good job recognizing early in the game that maybe the command would be a little bit spotty."
The A’s ended up drawing 11 walks in the game, which equaled their season high. Four of them belonged to Eric Sogard, who became the 10th player in the majors this season to walk four times in a game, joining the likes of fellow sluggers Buster Posey, Jay Bruce and Jose Bautista.
In seriousness, the light-hitting Sogard is also just the 14th player since at least 1914 to walk four times out of the No. 9 spot in the order. The last, according to baseball-reference.com, was Ryan Langerhans in 2011. Sogard came up a fifth time with two outs in the eighth, but grounded out on a comebacker.
"Eleven walks in a game is pretty impressive, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that," said Samardzija. "But it’s a testament to this lineup, and it’s how we play."
* Samardzija allowed nine baserunners in six innings and said he "felt like I was in the stretch the whole game." But he limited the damage to two runs, and only a high pitch count (109 after six innings) kept him from returning for the seventh. He still earned his first win in a night game since Aug. 24, 2013, snapping a winless streak of 14 games.
After a recent start, Samardzija referenced the fact that several times already since joining the A’s, he has exited in a tied game or with the A’s trailing only to watch them rally late for a walk-off win. Saturday night, he was the beneficiary of early support and there was no need for the late heroics. But he still said something afterward that gave a glimpse into the difference between pitching for the A’s and for his former team, the Cubs, who gave him notoriously little run support.
"That’s the approach I’ve been taking with this team is just keeping them in the game," Samardzija said. "Keep fighting, keep your pitch count down if it’s late in the game, and understand they’re going to come through and put some runs on the board."
In other words, it sounds like Samardzija doesn’t feel like he needs to go out and hold opposing teams to zero or one run every night to have a chance to win. Ask him and he’d say that’s obviously still the goal, but it frees him up to attack hitters more and no doubt takes a little pressure off of him to know the A’s are capable of scoring in bunches.
Norris said Samardzija was "good" in this outing but may be "still getting a feel for his split." Samardzija said after his last start that his strikeout total usually reflects his feel for his splitter, and Saturday night he had five in six innings.
"Sometimes, just like hitters, things come and go, and I think that’s just something he’s getting a feel for right now," Norris said. "He’s very deadly when that thing’s rolling. And he’s still deadly even without it, which says a lot about how he pitches."
* Norris tied his career high with his 10th home run, a three-run shot off Samuel Deduno in the sixth that put the A’s ahead 9-2. As Melvin pointed out after the game, Norris has seemed to have a knack for hitting three-run homers. Of his 10 this season, six have come with two runners on base.
"Quite a coincidence, isn’t it?" Norris said.
"I don’t know," Norris said. "I like to think that when runners get on base, that’s the time when you make your money. My power may not be able to compete with Donaldson, Moss, guys like that. But I like to think that when I do (show it) it’s meaningful."
Norris went on to acknowledge he "tries to do some damage" with runners in scoring position. That’s reflected in his numbers -- he came in batting .373 (28-for-75) with runners in scoring position this season, and drove in runs in all three plate appearances under those circumstances Saturday night (including the two bases-loaded walks).
Another notable stat -- half of Norris’ home runs this season have come against right-handed pitchers, encouraging for a player who started the year in a platoon.
"His at-bats have been much better against right-handed pitching this year," Melvin said. "Therefore getting more reps against righties, and you look at his numbers in the at-bats, it’s pretty significant."
* Donaldson appears to really enjoy hitting against the Twins. He has a 16-game hitting streak against Minnesota, during which he is batting .435 (27-for-62) with 13 RBIs after going 3-for-4 with two RBIs on Saturday night.
The A’s, meanwhile, ran their winning streak against the Twins to 12 games. Norris, like Sean Doolittle last night, was asked if the A’s simply have Minnesota’s number, and like Doolittle he dismissed that idea. Doolittle said it’s likely reflective of how the A’s have been playing when they’ve caught the Twins on the schedule, while Norris hypothesized: "Sometimes you just match up well against teams."
* A night after the bullpen set the Oakland-era record for most consecutive scoreless innings, that streak came to an end, as Jordan Schafer doubled off of Dan Otero in the eighth inning to drive in Eduardo Escobar. The streak ended at 29 2/3 scoreless innings, the longest such stretch since 1966, when the bullpen pitched 44 in a row.
* For a game that was decided early, there was a moment of excitement during the later innings -- provided by the re-emergence of the so-called "Rally Possum." The animal had been in hiding since Samardzija’s last start; apparently he’s a fan of the right-hander, and the feeling is mutual.
"I need to go find this guy," Samardzija said. "He’s pretty sweet, man.
"He shows up at the right times, too, like down times of the game. He must have a little ego on him, which I don’t mind."
The possum did get some TV time Saturday night, so it’s definitely not camera-shy. The "Rally Possum" moniker seems to be catching on, but Samardzija said he might have to come up with a permanent handle, since it’s now twice the possum has shown up during his starts.
"Come back to me in a couple days and I’ll have something sweet for him," Samardzija said. "I don’t want to short-change him and give him a bum name. But I need to do something. He likes me.
"I don’t know if that’s good that a possum likes you," he added. "But keep winning ball-games, he can show up as much as he wants."
* The A’s go for a four-game sweep Sunday afternoon behind Jason Hammel (1-4, 7.15), while the Twins counter with right-hander Phil Hughes (11-8, 4.01). First pitch at 1:05.