MINNEAPOLIS — Jim Johnson struggled again, but the Oakland Athletics picked up their new closer with a strong finish.
Derek Norris hit a three-run homer in the 11th inning, and the A’s bounced back from another blown save by Johnson to beat the Minnesota Twins, 7-4, on Wednesday.
“When someone doesn’t come through the next guy comes up and fills in for him. … It’s a nice chemistry we have here for that to happen,” Norris said.
Jared Burton (0-1) gave up the one-out drive by the backup catcher Norris, who went deep on Tuesday night, too. Dan Otero (1-0) got the last eight outs for the victory in relief of Johnson, who has given up seven runs, nine hits and six walks in five appearances with the A’s. He’s simply been falling behind in too many counts.
“Whatever he’s got to do to change that he will,” Norris said, adding: “He’s going to go on a roll, and this isn’t going to be a matter any longer I don’t think.”
Minnesota trailed 4-0 after a rocky first inning by Phil Hughes, who needed 40 pitches to get his first out. Jason Kubel homered in the second and Brian Dozier went deep in the eighth.
Johnson, who had 50 saves for Baltimore last season, gave up the third of four hits by Kubel to start the ninth. With the bases loaded and one out, Johnson nearly had Eduardo Escobar struck out, but a foul tip was ruled on his two-strike swing. Escobar then poked a single into to left field to cut Oakland’s lead to 4-3.
A one-hop throw to third baseman Josh Donaldson nearly forced out Kurt Suzuki, who was ruled safe, and a video review ruled the call stood — meaning there was not “clear and convincing” evidence to overturn it.
Donaldson said he closed his glove on the ball before Suzuki’s foot hit. But A’s manager Bob Melvin didn’t waste time arguing, instead replacing Johnson with Otero.
“I just had to go get him. I didn’t feel great about it, but I had to do it. Keep working to get him right,” Melvin said, declining to speculate on whether Johnson’s closer job was in jeopardy.
Dozier hit a sacrifice fly to right field, just deep enough for Suzuki to race home and sneak a hand onto the plate in front of the tag by Norris. Another umpire-initiated review confirmed the safe call, and the crowd of 22,973 cheered loudly when the video board provided the proof.
There was more drama before Norris came up again. Glen Perkins struck out Donaldson to end the 10th inning, and the Twins closer shouted some obscenities and pointed at Donaldson, who gestured and “started to red line,” as Donaldson put it afterward. Donaldson’s path to Perkins was cut off by the Twins, and after the dugouts mostly emptied the tension de-escalated.
Donaldson nearly homered during that at-bat, but the ball drifted foul. Perkins said he thought Donaldson was admiring his drive too long.
“I don’t feel like I disrespected him at all. I’m up there trying to win a game for our team, and he’s trying to win a game for his team. Juices are flowing,” Donaldson said.
Said Perkins: “There were things that happened in that at-bat that we both could have done differently. So we’ll leave it at that.”
Donaldson hit an RBI double after Hughes walked the first two batters of the game. Brandon Moss tacked on a two-run single, and Alberto Callaspo added an RBI single. None of the hits were particularly hard, but the damage was done.