OAKLAND – Few likely would have believed A’s manager Bob Melvin when he referred to the Chicago Cubs as a “dangerous” team before Tuesday night’s game.
Melvin’s straight-faced assessment seemed even more misguided on the heels of the Cubs trading pitcher Scott Feldman and former closer Carlos Marmol earlier Tuesday.
Who’s rolling their eyes now? Certainly not the A’s after the Cubs rallied from an early deficit, held a lead late into the game and made the A’s work quite hard for their 8-7 victory in front of 17,273 fans at the Coliseum.
The A’s surged past the Texas Rangers into first place in the American League West on the strength of a game-deciding home run by catcher Derek Norris in the eighth. This marks the first time the A’s hold sole possession of the division lead since June 21.
They regained first place by winning at home for the 17th time in 20 games and improving to an AL-best 27-13 at home, while the Rangers fell to the Seattle Mariners.
Feldman was slated to start against the A’s in the opener of the teams’ three-game series Tuesday. Instead, the Cubs went with left-hander Chris Rusin, which prompted Melvin to go with right-handed hitting Norris as his starting catcher.
“They make a trade, throw a lefty instead, we switch the lineup and (Derek’s) the hero,” first baseman Nate Freiman said. “That was awesome.”
Freiman could have been referring to Norris’ two-out, three-run home run in the eighth or Norris throwing out Luis Valbuena on the back end of a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play in the ninth to help preserve the game.
Melvin said Norris’ penchant for coming up big with the outcome in question is something he and Norris’ teammates almost expect.
“He does his best work late in games, with runners in scoring position,” Melvin said.
Norris entered the game batting only .195. However, Melvin and Norris’ teammates are bolstered by past results in tense situations.
“If you’re going to get a few hits, obviously the bigger situations are the type of things that get the respect of your teammates and gives us confidence that when he comes up there in big situations, he’s going to come through,” Melvin said.
Norris connected on a changeup from lefty reliever James Russell. He said he attempted to drive the ball up the middle for a base hit and keep alive the rally. Instead, he got under the ball just enough for it to carry over the fence.
“I thought it was going to go farther than it did,” Norris said.
Grant Balfour overcame a shaky ninth for his 20th save in as many opportunities.
Again, Norris came up huge when it mattered most. Norris threw out Valbuena after Starlin Castro swung and missed at Balfour’s pitch for the first out of the ninth.
Josh Donaldson gave the A’s a 2-0 lead with a home run in the first inning. He also started the A’s winning rally with a leadoff single. Josh Reddick made it possible for Norris to bat in the eighth by working a walk off Russell.
“That’s what we do when we’re at our best,” Melvin said. “We make pitchers work. … If they make a mistake, a lot of times we take advantage.”
— Jarrod Parker made it through a bullpen session Tuesday without any setback, and he is on track to make his regularly scheduled start.
Parker will start Thursday in the finale of a three-game series if he doesn’t suffer any setback from Tuesday’s sessions.
— Catcher John Jaso participated in a full-scale batting practice session Tuesday. Melvin said Jaso might get a start Wednesday as long as Jaso doesn’t suffer any lingering effects from his left palm injury. Jaso played only one game since June 20, when he suffered an abrasion to his left palm.
— The Cubs traded Feldman to the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday morning, denying Feldman a chance to pitch in front of family and friends at the Coliseum.
Feldman, who graduated from BurlingameHigh School and attended College of San Mateo, will start for the Orioles on Wednesday. The Cubs recalled left-hander Rusin from Triple-A Iowa to start in place of Feldman.
— The A’s roughed up Homer Bailey for six hits, two walks and four runs in Bailey’s most-recent start before he no-hit the Giants on Tuesday.
— The A’s signed Nicaraguan shortstop Jesus Lopez for $950,000 and Dominican shortstop Carlos Hiciano for $750,000 on the first day of international signings. The A’s used all but $226,000 of their $1.926 million bonus pool allotment for signing international players.
— Sacramento River Cats pitcher Sonny Gray, outfielder Michael Choice and infielder Grant Green were selected to represent the Pacific Coast League in the 2013 Triple-A All-Star Game on July 17 at Aces Ballpark in Reno, Nev.
Gray will be the starting pitcher for the PCL, marking the second straight year that a Sacramento player will start for the PCL. Right-hander Graham Godfrey got the nod last season.