Norris' first career pinch hit a homer for A's

Eric Gilmore, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

OAKLAND, Calif. -- When Oakland A's catcher Derek Norris came off the bench in the bottom of the seventh inning on Saturday to pinch hit for Stephen Vogt, the odds of getting a hit, let alone a home run, were longer than an extra-inning game.
Norris' last pinch hit was, well, never. He was 0-for-12 with two walks and was facing Angels left-hander Scott Downs, who had a steak of 29 scoreless appearances and had not allowed a homer since Sept. 25, 2012.
But with a runner on first and the A's trailing 1-0, Norris lined Downs' first-pitch fastball over the left-field wall for a two-run homer, giving the A's a 2-1 lead and propelling them to a 3-1 victory.
"We all know that I don't have the most success pinch hitting over my career, but just talking with some of the guys, sometimes it takes a little bit different mindset when ... you're pinch hitting," Norris said.
"You've got to attack them early because relievers nowadays, they're so good and their breaking stuff and changeups and sinkers, especially Downs with his big sinker. You got to get him early or you're not going to get him at all. Fortunately for me, I saw something up in the zone and just tried to catch enough of it to drive."
A's left-hander Tommy Milone (9-8) allowed one run and four hits in seven innings. He struck out six and walked four as the A's beat the Angels for the second straight time after losing the opener of the four-game series on Thursday.
Josh Hamilton gave the Angels a 1-0 lead in the second inning with his 17th home run of the season, a blast off Milone. That was still the score before Norris delivered his seventh home run of the season, all off lefties.
"I was just trying to go out there and keep our team in the game because we have the lineup and the guys to get it done," Milone said. "Luckily, we did. Better late than never."
The A's had Chris Young on first and one out against right-handed reliever Dane De La Rosa in the seventh with left-handed hitting catcher Stephen Vogt due up when Angels manager Mike Scioscia made a pitching change.
Downs, whose 29-game shutout streak was one shy of the franchise record, replaced De La Rosa. A's manager Bob Melvin, as Scioscia said he expected, countered that move by sending up Norris, a right-handed hitter, to bat for Vogt.
"It looked like Dane was getting a little bit tired," Scioscia said, explaining his move. "And then Downsy just missed with the first pitch to Norris and he hit it out.
"I knew you were going to get Norris and then if something happened or he didn't hit the home run, (Adam) Rosales was probably going to hit for (Eric) Sogard. I can't remember the last time Downsy gave up a home run. Definitely liked the matchup with his sinker and hopefully can get a double-play ball. Give Norris credit. He got a pitch up a little bit and he didn't miss it."
The A's were not done in the seventh. Coco Crisp singled with two out and Jed Lowrie drove him home with a double off the right-field wall to make it 3-1.
"All streaks come to an end," Downs said. "I don't really think about all that. I just think about going out and making pitches. Unfortunately, I got one up and (Norris) took care of it."
Angels right-hander Garrett Richards returned to the rotation Saturday, replacing Joe Blanton, and made his first start since April 30, when he gave up a season-high seven earned runs on eight hits in a 10-6 loss to the A's.
This time, Richards blanked the A's for five innings on three hits, striking out four and walking two. He left the game only because his pitch count hit 78.
"I was just going to go out there and try not to overthrow," Richards said. "Try to pound the lower half of the strike zone and get ahead of guys."
The Angels were without slugger Albert Pujols. He aggravated his injured left foot in the ninth inning on Friday night while running to first on a two-run single and returned to southern California to be examined by doctors. Pujols has been battling plantar fasciitis all season.
"It's sorer than anything he's dealt with, what he's been playing through," Scioscia said before the game.
Hamilton entered the game hitting .158 against left-handers this season with one home run. But he was batting .429 for his career against Milone with six hits in 14 at-bats, including a home run. Milone threw him an 0-and-1 fastball down the middle of the plate and Hamilton launched into the right-field seats.
After Milone exited, Ryan Cook pitched a scoreless eighth and closer Grant Balfour pitched a perfect ninth for his 28th save.
NOTES: A's LHP Brett Anderson (stress fracture right foot, sprained right ankle) threw a 51-pitch bullpen session with a break in the middle, simulating the break between innings in a game. "It was good," Anderson said. "Going into it, I felt like there weren't going to be any problems, but you never know how you're going to react to sitting for a potential inning. I felt good. I felt strong. My body's a non-issue." Pitching coach Curt Young said that pitching a simulated game "is probably the next step" for Anderson. ... Former A's left-hander Vida Blue threw out the first pitch on "1969 Turn Back the Clock Day" at the Coliseum. Both teams wore throwback uniforms. The A's rocked a bright green and gold combination and sleeveless jerseys. The Angels sported halo caps.

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