Derek Norris hasn’t had the smoothest road during his time as an Athletic. Since his debut last June, his batting average has hovered around .200 and at times he has looked completely overmatched both with the bat and behind the plate. His sub-par play was the primary reason I explored the idea of trading for a catcher recently. Last night however, Norris showed us why A’s brass believes he is the team’s catcher of the future with a clutch three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the eighth to give the A’s a 8-7 victory over the Chicago Cubs.Despite his recent struggles at the plate I was actually pretty confident that Norris would at least come through with a base hit as I thought back to his walk-off homer against the Giants last year. After quickly falling behind in the count 0-2 it seemed like Norris would be put away without much of a fight, but he held up on the next two offerings to even the count.
James Russell then threw a changeup that caught just a bit too much of the plate and Norris smacked it over the wall in left-center to give the A’s the lead. Looking at the replay, Russell was trying to locate the pitch low and away, but the ball came in belt-high on the outer half of the dish, and Norris was able to reach out and pull it.
Norris wasn’t quite done with his night however.
In the top of the ninth Grant Balfour came in for the save but walked leadoff hitter Luis Valbuena to begin the inning. A tough battle with the next batter, Starlin Castro, ensued and with a full count Valbuena took off for second. Castro was unable to make contact and Norris fired the ball to Eric Sogard at second who applied the tag to complete the double play. Balfour then retired Nate Schierholtz on a grounder to seal the deal.
With this victory and a loss by the Rangers to the Mariners, the A’s climbed back into first place in the AL West.
Although Norris is just a .202 hitter to this point in his career he really seems to dial in when the team needs it most. Including the aforementioned walk off against the Giants, seven of his 11 career home runs have come with two outs, while four of those homers also occurred with two strikes in the count. So far this year he is hitting .385 with two outs and runners in scoring position.
Even though this wasn’t a walk-off win it was about as exciting as one could be. A sea-saw battle, an unlikely conqueror with late-inning heroics, and a nerve-racking ninth inning are the exact ingredients for a thrilling victory that leaves you incredibly ecstatic and eager to come back and see the next game. I can’t wait to get back to the Coliseum tonight.
In other news…
- Jarrod Parker experienced a bit of soreness in his right hamstring while throwing a bullpen session on Tuesday and the A’s have yet to decide if he will take the hill on Thursday against the Cubs. Parker is scheduled to play catch and do some running today to test the hamstring, and if he is unable to go the A’s will either call up Dan Straily or Sonny Gray to make the start. Gray was scratched from his Tuesday start for the River Cats, presumably as insurance for Parker.
- Speaking of Gray, the right-hander was selected to be the starting pitcher for the Pacific Coast League in the Triple-A All-Star Game on July 17 in Reno. Gray, 23 and in his first full season at Triple-A, currently ranks fourth in the PCL with a 3.02 ERA. Through 15 starts, he’s 7-5 with 98 strikeouts and just 32 walks in 95 1/3 innings.
- In a bit of disheartening news, everybody’s favorite psychopath Milton Bradley was sentenced to 960 days in jail yesterday for abusing his estranged wife, according to ESPN. He must also perform 400 hours of community service. I don’t have any respect for the guy, but as a compassionate human being I hope he can get himself straightened out, at least for his kids’ sake.