OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—As Travis Hafner’s drive carried toward the high wall in left-center what had been a six-run lead for Oakland no longer seemed so safe anymore.
“With the career he’s had anytime he connects with the barrel it’s obviously going to be a scary moment,” catcher Derek Norris said. “He’s got tremendous power and he’s a monster, he’s huge. Anytime a guy like that you hear a barrel you know it could be scary. Fortunately for us Seth made a great play and that good old marine layer made the ball go down a little bit.”
Norris homered and drove in four runs, Coco Crisp hit a leadoff homer and Bartolo Colon (8-2) pitched six scoreless innings to lead the A’s to their eighth win in 11 games. Oakland (39-27) has its best record after 66 games since 1992.
It didn’t come easy after the Yankees scored twice in the eighth and twice in the ninth to bring up Hafner as the tying run with a man on first. His drive off Grant Balfour through the thick night air in Oakland died at the fence.
“To me it was never going out,” said Balfour, who recorded his 16th save in as many chances. “It was just a matter of does it go off the wall a little too high and then it’s a double. That was the only thing I was worried about. I was never worried about it going out.”
Sabathia (6-5) allowed six runs and eight hits in six innings in his homecoming start in front of many fans that came from his hometown of nearby Vallejo to watch him pitch.
“He made mistakes, and you can’t make mistakes at this level,” manager Joe Girardi said. “If you do, sometimes you’re going to get away with them but most of the time you’re not.”
The A’s did get some bad news when star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes had to leave the game after the second inning with tightness in his left hamstring. He is day to day. Cespedes appeared to hurt himself running out a groundout in the first inning. Crisp also played through a sore right heel.
Colon pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first inning and then didn’t allow another runner to reach second base. He allowed three hits and a season-high four walks to improve to 5-0 with a 0.75 ERA over his past five starts.
“He’s been unbelievable really for us,” Balfour said. “He’s a veteran guy and he’s leading the way for us. He’s showing the younger guys, `Hey I’m out here and I’m still doing it.’ Just watching the way he goes about his business he’s a true professional. He’s been doing it a long time and is very successful at doing it. We’re lucky to have him.”
Norris was coming off an 0-for-13 road trip and was hitless in 14 straight at-bats before delivering the most productive game of his career. He blooped a two-out RBI double down the right-field line in the second that scored Josh Reddick from first when Lyle Overbay misplayed the ball in his fourth career game in right field.
Norris then added the big blow in the fourth inning when he drove a first pitch from Sabathia over the wall in left-center for a three-run homer that made it 5-0 and gave Norris a career-high four RBIs.
The A’s added a run in the sixth when Josh Donaldson doubled and scored on a wild pitch. The poor outing left Sabathia with a 5.30 ERA in 14 career starts in Oakland. That’s his highest ERA in any active American League park.
“The changeup was up and flat, the two-seamer I was yanking down the middle,” Sabathia said. “It was just a combination of everything not being sharp.”
New York scored twice in the eighth off Jerry Blevins and could have had more except right fielder Josh Reddick made a nice running catch to track down a liner toward the line by Travis Hafner.
Mark Teixeira added a two-run single in the ninth before Smith’s catch ended it.
The Yankees threatened in the first inning when they took advantage of two rare walks by Colon to load the bases with one out. But Colon escaped the threat with no damage when he got Kevin Youkilis to foul out to first base and Lyle Overbay to foul out to left field.
“We got to make him pay,” Overbay said. “We let him off the hook and that kind of gave him some momentum and we couldn’t get it back.”
New York then found itself trailing two pitches into the bottom half when Crisp his third leadoff homer of the season and 11th in his career to make it 1-0.
NOTES: The national anthem was played by the marching band from Solano Middle School, the school Sabathia attended for junior high. … Girardi said he hopes SS Derek Jeter will be cleared Thursday by doctors to begin full rehab of his injured ankle. … Dan Straily (3-2, 4.67 ERA) pitches for Oakland in the second game of the series against Phil Hughes (3-4, 4.80).