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Game #84: It's D-No-Mite — A's Beat Cubs 8-7 on Norris HR

This team gets more and more fun to watch every single day. Derek Norris won the game with a three-run homer and the A's had an all-around great night from the batter's box to compensate for one of A.J. Griffin's worst starts of the season. Oakland is now 49-35, and is alone in the AL West driver's lead, 0.5 games ahead of Texas.

Derek. Freaking. Norris.
Derek. Freaking. Norris.
Thearon W. Henderson

This was probably the best win of the season. Derek Norris is awesome. Josh Donaldson is awesome. Nate Freiman is awesome. Our bullpen is awesome. Larry Vanover kinda sucks, but it didn't matter. That's seriously all you need to know. But if you really, really want to hear something slightly more intelligent than what I just wrote, read on.

The game got off to an excellent start for Oakland — Josh Donaldson continued his stellar campaign by homering on a line drive to the stairs in left field, scoring Yoenis Cespedes and giving the A's a 2-0 lead. His 2013 season to date has without a doubt been worthy of a berth on the All-Star team, but it remains to be seen whether he'll actually make that cut — he has some absurdly worthy competition.

Not to forgotten, the much-maligned Chris Young, who started today in center field, hit another one out to left, increasing the A's lead to 3-0.

Griffin enjoyed the lead in the third inning, in which he retired the Cubs in order, but the fun ended there for him. In the Cubs' half of the fourth, he gave up consecutive singles to Starlin Castro and Nate Schierholtz. They both advanced on a wild pitch, but it didn't matter when Alfonso Soriano hit a three-run home run to center field, tying the game up at 3.

The Cubbies weren't done, either. Brian Bogusevic came with a one-out single one a grounder that got through to Josh Reddick in right field. Bogusevic would move over to second on a Darwin Barney sacrifice fly to left field, and then score on a Welington Castillo single. Castillo would then score on Luis Valbuena's single, giving Chicago a 5-3 lead.

The A's didn't let the Cubs hold onto the lead for very long at all. Derek Norris got the rally started by working a walk against Carlos Villanueva, who'd come on with one out in the bottom of the 4th to replace Rusin. Bob Melvin, at that point, chose to pinch-hit Sogard for Rosales — that's a testament to Rosales' struggles this season, since you don't really see situational, righty/lefty switches in the 4th inning all that often.

Eric Sogard followed the Norris walk with a lazy pop-up to shallow left field, but miraculously, Starlin Castro and Alfonso Soriano managed to either completely miscommunicated or, more likely, not communicate at all. They collided, and the ball ended up squirting 20 feet away from Soriano, toward the A's bullpen, allowing Norris to advance to third and Sogard to reach second base safely.

At that point, the A's had the Cubs right where they wanted 'em — if there's somebody you want hitting with two runners on base in a close game on this Oakland team, it's Coco Crisp. True to form, Coco hit a 2012 ALDS-esque ground ball through the hole in right field, scoring both runners and leaving the game tied at 5 through four innings.

So four singles with a home run halfway through off of A.J. Griffin in the fourth inning gave the Cubs five runs. But Bob Melvin left him in to work the fifth inning, and it paid off — he retired the Cubs in order again. Melvin's mistake came the inning after when he let A.J. come out to work the 6th. It seemed like a fine decision at the time, given that Griffin had just worked a perfect inning.

Griffin immediately gave up consecutive singles to Dioner Navarro and Bogusevic. Castillo, another one of the Cubs' usual suspects in this game, hit a double to center field that Chris Young — well, he didn't misplay it, but he didn't play it well either. It went over his head and two runs scored, despite the fact that the A's threw Castillo out at third base trying to advance on the throw home. But the Cubs led, 7-5, after 6 innings, and Griffin's night was done. Both teams were quiet offensively from the bottom of the 6th through the top of the 8th, leaving the score at 7-5 in favor of Chicago when we began the bottom of the 8th inning.

Josh Donaldson got the fun started with a line drive single to center field. Nate Freiman and Chris Young seemed intent on spoiling everything when they feebly flied out to left field and then popped out to the pitcher, respectively. Cubs skipper Dale Sveum then pulled Blake Parker in favor of James Russell, who proceeded to lose a battle to Josh Reddick, walking him and putting two runners on for Derek Norris.

Norris didn't care about his early-season struggles, though. He hit a a three-run, game-winning home run to left-center field, about 10 feet below the lowest row of bleachers around the Raiders' 30-yard line, scoring Donaldson and Reddick and giving the A's an 8-7 lead.

Norris topped the performance off in the top of the 9th, when with Grant Balfour pitching, he threw out Luis Valbuena stealing second base, completing a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play and leaving the bases empty for Balfour with two outs. Balfour finished the job, getting Nate Schierholtz to ground out to Sogard at second base, sealing the A's 8-7 victory and giving Balfour his 20th-consecutive save this season and 38th-consecutive dating back to last April of year, putting him just two shy of Dennis Eckersley's all-time A's record for consecutive successfully-converted save opportunities.

The win, after Seattle's 9-2 drubbing of the Texas Rangers, puts the A's in sole possession of first place in the AL West. It wasn't the prettiest performance tonight — A.J. Griffin's outing was really nothing special. But as we've seen time and time again, this team has some fight in it, and a substantial deficit late in games doesn't really mean anything. It's so, so, so cliché, but I mean it: this team never quits.

To boot, it's good to see that Chris Young and Derek Norris have the potential to be offensively productive players in the second half of 2013, which would be a huge boost to the A's lineup, especially against left-handed pitching.

On the subject of facing southpaw starters, Nate Freiman, the right-handed batting half of the A's first base platoon, continues to be freaking awesome. His average is now .283, and I'm not gonna lie, he's totally my new favorite Oakland A. And given the overall wealth of awesomeness in terms of both personality and talent we're lucky enough to have on this team, that's really saying something. Nate is without a doubt the Billy Beane move of the year so far. OK, he's one of two, along with the Lowrie trade, but still. The dude had never played above the AA level before this season, and look at what he's done! A true diamond in the rough. Unbelievable.

Dan Otero got the win tonight thanks to his scoreless top half of the 8th inning, and even though I still think reliever wins/losses are kinda stupid, it's always cool to see a guy get his first career win. Good for him.

And in case there was any doubt, Josh Donaldson's slump a few weeks ago was just an anomalous hiccup in one of the best first halves any of us have seen from an Oakland position player in a very, very long time. His average is back up to .318, and his defense at third base just seems to get better and better from day to day.

Also, I realize that I touched on Larry Vanover's umpiring struggles in the first sentence and didn't elaborate. Basically, he made three very close calls at first base that all went in favor of the Cubs, but got one right at best. That's all there is to say, because we won. Believe me — if we'd lost, I'd have a few thoughts on the matter. Vanover will be calling balls and strikes tomorrow night, so we'll see if he returns a few favors to the A's.

So here's my recap of my recap: the A's are awesome, and as of this moment it's fair to say that Oakland is back in its rightful place as the place to be for Major League Baseball in the Bay Area. Even more importantly, the A's are on top of their division and have solidified their standing as one of MLB's best teams in 2013. I'm really looking forward to the series in Pittsburgh next week — the A's are going to be back on ESPN on Wednesday night for the first time in God knows how long, playing against the Pirates, and both teams deserve the coverage. It's going to be great to watch.

The A's do it all over again tomorrow night at the Coliseum, at 7:05pm. Come out and see the post-game show at the Coliseum! And aside from Bartolo Colon hitting the clubhouse buffet when the game's over, there are also post-game fireworks. Find a carpool (BART workers are still on strike...boooo), check out this thread to read about your transportation options, and get yourself to the Coliseum to see Bartolo and the A's, who in my opinion are far and away the most fun team to watch in baseball this season. The super awesome baseballgirl (thanks again for thread-sitting!) will have your thread tomorrow evening. Enjoy this team, guys.