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Norris' twin 3-run blasts propel A's past Nats

The SportsXchange

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Before the Athletics' series finale Sunday against the Washington Nationals, Oakland catcher Derek Norris had never hit more than one home run in a game during his career.

Norris proceeded to cash in on two green-light specials, hitting three-run homers in each of the first two innings, both of them coming on 3-0 counts against former Athletics left-hander Gio Gonzalez.

Washington traded Norris to Oakland in December 2011 as part of a package for Gonzalez, who faced his former team for the first time Sunday. Norris made sure the Nationals realize what they are missing, leading the A's to a 9-1 rout before a Mother's Day crowd of 28,205 at the O.co Coliseum.

"Just one of them special days. No way to explain it other than somewhere mama's giving me the power and strength to do something special on her day," Norris said of mother, Jacque. "That goes out to her. She's always been there for me. It's nice to actually be able to in some way give it back to her."

A's left-hander Scott Kazmir (5-1) threw seven shutout innings for the win. Kazmir allowed four hits, struck out four and walked none. He bounced back from his lone loss of the season, a 4-2 defeat May 5 against the Seattle Mariners when he gave up four runs and eight hits over six innings.

Norris gave him all the run support he needed on his first swing, then padded the lead with his second swing of the day.

"I don't think I've ever seen anything like that before, especially two 3-0 counts," Kazmir said. "That was awesome, especially early in the game. I had a nice cushion to go out there and relax and play my game. It was a little bit easier for me."

Gonzalez (3-3) lasted only 4 1/3 innings, allowing a season-high seven runs on nine hits, which matched his season high. He struck out four, walked three and threw 88 pitches, just 48 for strikes.

"Just couldn't find the strike zone," Gonzalez said. "That was my mistake, just trying to figure it out. Mistake pitches, left them up in the zone and good hitters made contact."

The A's won their fourth consecutive game. By winning all three games in the weekend series, Oakland completed its fourth series sweep of the season, the most in the major leagues.

Norris entered the game batting .378 overall and .487 over his previous 15 contests and proceeded to stay hot, going 2-for-4 and driving in a career-high six runs. The six RBIs tied for the most by an A's catcher in a game since 1914.

Oakland scored four runs in the first inning after Gonzalez retired the first two batters. Third baseman Josh Donaldson walked and went to second when left fielder Yoenis Cespedes beat out an infield single. Gonzalez then fell behind Norris and piped a 90 mph fastball that Norris launched for his third home run of the season.

Norris came to bat again in the second with center fielder Craig Gentry on third after a leadoff single and Cespedes on first following a two-out walk. Once again, Gonzalez fell behind 3-0. Once again, Norris got the green light and ripped a fastball over the left field fence, putting the A's ahead 7-0.

"He didn't have a breaking ball early," Nationals manager Matt Williams said of Gonzalez. "Missed with his fastball, and they made him pay for it. That's kind of the story of today."

A's manager Bob Melvin went against his typical strategy when he gave Norris the green light on 3-0 counts.

"We don't do it a whole lot, especially against starters," Melvin said. "I think more than anything, probably the first time, I think Gio's been around here and knows that we don't do that a whole lot. There's a little give and take to doing that, whether or not that guy has his good command early, and it didn't really look like Gio did. But Derek's been seeing the ball really well, so I trusted him to take it if it was a ball. You know you're going to get a fastball, and make sure you get it in a good spot."

After homering on a 3-0 fastball in the first inning, Norris didn't expect to get another 3-0 fastball over the plate from Gonzalez in the second.

"The last thing on my mind was that he was going to go there," Norris said. "I thought he'd stay down and away. He threw it kind of middle away the first at-bat. Maybe he thought he'd sneak one in there 3-0 again. I rarely miss those. Usually not for a three-run homer, but usually something hard somewhere. One of those crazy days that worked out."

Norris and John Jaso platoon behind the plate for Oakland, with Jaso usually starting against right-handed pitchers and Norris against lefties. Jaso hit a walk-off double and a solo home run Saturday night in the Athletics' 4-3, 10-inning victory.

Norris made the big contribution the next day, burning his former organization.

"It's not that they didn't want you, but it's always nice to stick it to them," Norris said.

NOTES: Nationals 1B Adam LaRoche (strained right quad) was placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday. The Nationals decided to make that move after getting results of an MRI that LaRoche underwent Saturday. He was playing with a sore quad for more than two weeks. ... Nationals 1B Tyler Moore was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse, replacing LaRoche on the 25-man roster. Moore started and went 0-for-3 Sunday. ... Oakland CF Coco Crisp (strained neck) missed his fourth consecutive game. He remains day-to-day.
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