The Sports Xchange
By Eric Gilmore, The Sports Xchange
Norris joins Athletics' list of walk-off heroes
OAKLAND, Calif. -- When he came to the plate in the bottom of the 10th inning with the bases loaded and two outs Monday night, Oakland A's catcher Derek Norris flashed back to the first inning.
Norris hit a soft fly ball to right field, squandering his bases-loaded chance Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Alex Cobb. This time he made amends, delivering a walk-off single against former A's closer Grant Balfour and lifting the A's to a 3-2 victory at the O.co Coliseum.
"I was really irritated with myself that I couldn't get a couple runs across (in the first)," Norris said. "(Cobb) was struggling, and to get a shallow popup to right, I got to be better than that. I was preaching the other day about our situational hitting, and there I was in the limelight trying to come through, and I fell right into the pool again."
The walk-off hit was the second of Norris' career and the Athletics' eighth of the season.
With one out in the 10th, A's center fielder Sam Fuld grounded a sharp single to center off Balfour (1-4). Fuld, a former Ray, stole second base, and Balfour walked designated hitter John Jaso, bringing third baseman Josh Donaldson to the plate.
Donaldson walked, loading the bases, and Balfour struck out first baseman Brandon Moss, but Norris delivered the game-winner after falling behind 0-2 in the count. His single to center brought home Fuld.
"Sometimes he falls into patterns, but tonight he was mixing it real well," Norris said of Balfour. "He was throwing pretty well. Once he gets runners in scoring position, he turns on another switch. I saw it (repeatedly).
"(I was) just looking for something out over the plate. They've been playing me to pull lately. I thought anything up the middle, it wouldn't have to be too hard to get through."
Rays manager Joe Maddon wasn't around to see the ending. He was ejected after arguing with first base umpire Quinn Wolcott during Donaldson's at-bat. Maddon thought Balfour fanned Donaldson swinging on a 2-2 pitch, but Wolcott ruled it wasn't a swing.
"It was not borderline," Maddon said. "It was egregious. My patience ran out. The call was inappropriate."
The A's improved to 11-6 in extra-inning games. Right-hander Ryan Cook (1-1) got the win, pitching a scoreless 10th.
Oakland (68-43) remains a game ahead of the Los Angeles Angels in the American League West. The A's snapped Tampa Bay's franchise-record-tying, eight-game road winning streak and ruined Balfour's homecoming.
"I just got beat by a good team tonight, plain and simple," Balfour said. "That's all I have. It's tough when you have to get five outs. I'll leave it at that, otherwise I'm going to say the wrong thing."
The latter reference was to the umpires' calls.
A's shortstop Jed Lowrie went 3-for-4 with an RBI double, and second baseman Eric Sogard went 2-for-2 and scored a run.
Third baseman Evan Longoria hit a solo home run for the Rays, while center fielder Desmond Jennings and first baseman James Loney added two hits apiece.
A's right-hander Jeff Samardzija gave up two runs on five hits over seven innings but didn't figure in the decision. He struck out three, walked one and watched as the A's produced another walk-off win.
"It seems to be my M.O. since I've been here," Samardzija said. "I go out and throw some innings and then watch these guys put on a show at the end of the game. It's fun to watch. I love this team. I love how they play. They don't quit. Every at-bat means the world to each guy, and you see that in their emotions and how they react to each at-bat."
Cobb allowed two runs on seven hits over 5 2/3 innings in a no-decision. Cobb's career-high-tying, five-game winning streak remains alive, but he wasn't as sharp as he was recently. Cobb walked four, tying his season high, and struck out four. In his previous three starts, he went 3-0 with 31 strikeouts and two walks while allowing one run over 20 innings.
The Rays took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth, but the A's pulled even with a run and knocked Cobb out of the game. Sogard singled with one out, moved to second on Fuld's single and scored on Donaldson's two-out single to center. Right-hander Joel Peralta came on to retire Moss on a line drive to right field.
Tampa Bay nearly pushed across a go-ahead run in the ninth against A's closer Sean Doolittle. Loney led off with a single. Pinch runner Sean Rodriguez moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and to third when Lowrie booted shortstop Yunel Escobar's hard ground ball.
Pinch hitter Brandon Guyer laid down a squeeze bunt, but the ball went straight to a charging Doolittle. The left-hander shoveled the ball to Norris, who tagged out Rodriguez. Doolittle struck out right fielder Keven Kiermaier, ending the inning.
Just before Guyer's at-bat, A's manager Bob Melvin went to the mound and warned his players that a squeeze could be coming.
"When Bob went out to the mound he just said, 'Be ready,'" Norris said. "There's no way to defend a perfect bunt, and fortunately he bunted it firm enough back to Sean where he could get it to me in time."
NOTES: A's RHP Sonny Gray was selected the American League Pitcher of the Month for July. Gray went 5-0 with a 1.03 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 35 innings in July, bouncing back from a 2-2 June. Gray earned AL Pitcher of the Month honors in April, too. ... Oakland CF Coco Crisp (sore neck) was out of the lineup for the ninth straight game, but he entered as a pinch hitter and stayed in the game on defense. Barring a setback, he might start Tuesday, A's manager Bob Melvin said. ... Newly acquired LHP Drew Smyly will make his first start for the Rays on Tuesday against Oakland.
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