By Matthew Harrington
Athletics closer Jim Johnson blew his second save of the season, but a Derek Norris three-run homer in the eleventh inning salvaged a 7-4 A’s win in Minnesota Wednesday afternoon. Oakland took a 4-0 led over the Twins in the first inning from Target Field, but a home team rally capped by a two-run ninth forced extra innings for A’s for the second time this season.
Athletics starter Jesse Chavez had a second-straight solid start spoiled, picking up a no-decision after seven innings and only one run allowed. Chavez also was the victim of circumstance in the A’s previous extra-inning game, a 12-inning 3-2 walk-off over the Mariners last Thursday.
Phil Hughes failed to retire the first six batters he faced Wednesday, walking leadoff man Sam Fuld and Jed Lowrie before giving up four-straight base hits including a two-RBI single by Brandon Moss and run-producing hits by Josh Donaldson and Alberto Callaspo for a 4-0 lead with no outs. Hughes righted the ship, yielding no runs for the next four innings then four relievers combined to leave the A’s scoreless over the next five innings before Norris’ blast.
Designated hitter Jason Kubel cut the lead to three, launching a 2-0 Chavez delivery to deep right for a solo home run. It’d be the lone run the Twins produced off Chavez but second baseman Brian Dozier pulled the Twins within two on a solo blast of his own off A’s reliever Sean Doolittle to cut the lead in half.
The ninth inning continued to be a rocky ride with the two-time MLB saves leader Johnson on the mound. The leadoff hitter Kubel reached base on a single to center then ex-Athletic Kurt Suzuki drew a walk with two strikes to put runners on first and second. Johnson coaxed a bunting pop-up off the bat of Chris Hermann but Aaron Hicks took ball four with on another two-strike count to load the bases.
In a series of strange events, the Twins scored runs on the next two plays, but not without an umpire review for each. Eduardo Escobar flared a ball to left that Yoenis Cespedes scooped up and fired to third, looking for the force-out. The umpires ruled Suzuki safe at third after protest from Melvin, who then lifted his closer on the verge of blowing a second lead in three save opportunities in favor of Dan Otero.
Otero suffered the same fate as Johnson when guarding the one-run led. Brian Dozier lifted a sacrifice fly to right field, but Josh Reddick unleashed a laser to home plate to try to cut down Suzuki at home. After review, the call on the field was upheld, Suzuki was ruled safe and the Twins had forced a tie. Otero would walk Joe Mauer before ending the ninth with a ground out off the bat of Trevor Plouffe.
Neither team found the scoreboard in the tenth, with Glen Perkins and Otero pitching perfect innings to set up Norris’s blast. Norris, a pinch-hitter in the ninth who remained in at catcher for John Jaso, rocketed a delivery from Jared Burton (0-1, 9.00 ERA) to deep center to knock in Daric Barton and Callaspo for the decisive blow. It’s the right-handed backstop’s second dinger, both coming off right-handed pitchers. Otero (1-0, 1.69 ERA) walked a tight rope in the 12th, loading the bases on two singles and a walk before retiring Plouffe for the victory.
The A’s wrap up the series against Minnesota with another early afternoon game Thursday. Oakland’s Dan Straily and Minnesota’s Mike Pelfrey each take the hill looking for their first win of 2014.