07/20/12 10:46 PM ET
After initial success at plate, Norris learns to adjust
By Ben Estes / MLB.com
The backstop failed to record a hit in his last seven games and was in the midst of an 0-for-28 stretch overall entering Friday. It's a far cry from when Norris hit .333 over his first eight big league games after being called up on June 21, a period headlined by the June 24 game against the Giants when Norris hit a walk-off for his first career home run.
As to the reason for Norris' woes at the plate, A's manager Bob Melvin said before Friday's game against the Yankees that he thought the catcher was just pressing. Norris said nothing was wrong mechanically and noted that he's always been streaky.
He chalked his struggles up to simply being cold, made worse by the difference in quality between the Triple-A pitching he was used to and the Majors.
"You miss your good pitch to hit, [big league pitchers] execute the next one, and the odds aren't in your favor when they execute their pitches," Norris said. "It just comes down to when I get my pitch, just quit missing it."
Importantly, though, the catcher's defense hasn't suffered along with his offense. Norris said he used to be "real bad" at letting his performance at the plate negatively affect his defense and his game-calling, but he learned to keep from doing that through maturation.
With his defense still more than solid for a rookie, the question becomes when Norris' offense will catch back up.
"It's just going to come down to that one hit and getting it out of the way, and then I'll just roll from there," Norris said.
Lefferts linked in history to A's walk-off homer feat
OAKLAND -- Brandon Hicks' walk-off home run on Wednesday was important enough for Oakland, since it gave the team a big win against the first-place Rangers. But it also helped the A's accomplish a feat that hadn't been done for 26 years.
Along with catcher Derek Norris, Hicks became the second A's player to hit a walk-off for his first career homer this year. That made Oakland the first team to have two players do so in the same season since the Padres in 1986, according to David Vincent of SABR.
Benito Santiago completed the feat back then on Sept. 17, but the first person to hit the milestone homer for San Diego was Craig Lefferts on April 25, who smashed an 0-2 curveball from Giants pitcher Greg Minton into the seats at Jack Murphy Stadium in the bottom of the 12th to give the Padres a 9-8 win.
What's amazing about that is Lefferts was a pitcher, and a reliever at that. It would prove to be a record-setting year for him, as the 83 appearances he accrued still stands as a single-season franchise record.
What's more amazing is Lefferts now works in the A's organization -- he's the pitching coach for Class A Advanced Stockton -- meaning he's associated with the last two franchises to have done the rare feat.
Lefferts called the walk-off one of the "most exciting" things that happened to him in a career that spanned 12 years. He wasn't even supposed to have played that day because he had come down with the flu and spent the game in the trainer's room until the seventh or eighth inning.
But Padres manager Steve Boros ran out of arms in the extra-inning affair and summoned Lefferts out of necessity, setting him up for what became an indelible memory.
"To hit a home run, just doing that was great, but to win the game was extra special," Lefferts said. "For the A's to have it happen a couple of times is really cool."
Adding to the craziness is that the fifth and sixth spots in the order for the opposing Giants were occupied by right fielder Chili Davis and catcher Bob Melvin. Davis is now the A's hitting coach, and Melvin, of course, is the team's manager.
Melvin said he does recall Lefferts' feat, though Davis did not. They also became teammates of Lefferts when he was traded to the Giants in 1987.
And because baseball doesn't settle for anything too normal, there's one more incredible part of this story. After Lefferts hit his long ball, Padres catcher Terry Kennedy gave him a hug and told him he had never even hit a walk-off himself, and here was a reliever doing it.
Four days later, Kennedy hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth to give the Padres a 5-4 win over the Cubs.
Lefferts, who pitched one perfect inning of relief, was the winning pitcher.
Ben Estes is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.