OAKLAND -- Baseball can be a quirky game. Wednesday night, the A's lost 3-1 to the Cubs after Bartolo Colon's first wild pitch in 443 starts helped Chicago take a one-run lead in the first inning. Thursday, the A's won 1-0 scoring one unearned run on a passed ball. According to A's media relations, it was the ninth time in Oakland history the A's have won a 1-0 game without an RBI, and the first time they did so with a passed ball as the only scoring play.
"That's the way it bounces sometimes," manager Bob Melvin said with a shrug.
A lot, of course, went into making that score stand up. Dan Straily, recalled from Triple-A on Thursday morning, one-hit the Cubs for seven innings in arguably his best major-league start. Straily credited catcher Derek Norris with guiding him through the Cubs lineup, saying he arrived at the park Thursday not knowing the righties in the Chicago lineup from the lefties. You can read more about that here.
Straily also benefited from some strong defense, including two key plays in the fourth. Yoenis' Cespedes throw to nail Starlin Castro at the plate with one out is the subject of tomorrow's print story, but this was Castro's take on the play:
"It surprised me," he said. "I thought I was going to be easy safe. I'm running hard right away, I saw the ball doing my secondary lead. ... The guy made a great throw."
Castro said he was mostly surprised because Alfonso Soriano had hit the ball so softly it didn't seem like there would be a play at the plate anyway. Melvin had the same thought.
"When the ball was hit, I didn't think there was a chance of throwing him out," Melvin said. "It was a spectacular throw, and that's what (Cespedes) does there in left field. A lot of times you'll see teams not even try to send the runner right there."
The Cubs might not be as familiar with Cespedes' arm, being a National League team -- Castro was asked about that and said he'd never seen Cespedes actually make a throw. It was the fifth outfield assist of the year for Cespedes, who found a way to contribute even as his slump continues. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and is now 9-for-59 with 23 strikeouts over his last 15 games.
"That was our one chance to keep them off the scoreboard," Norris said. "It was a perfect throw, gave me a long hop right to my stomach."
Castro had already hit third base and turned for home by the time Cespedes fielded the ball. Norris, though, said he still expected a play. "Anywhere the runner is, I know he's got a shot," Norris said. "He's got that good of an arm."
* Norris also scored the A's lone run in the seventh. Cubs reliever Matt Guerrier threw an 0-1 pitch that Eric Sogard swung at and missed, but catcher Welington Castillo let it skip through his legs and Norris came sprinting in from third.
Castillo said that Guerrier "just made a good pitch. I think I just didn't read it good. It went through my legs."
Norris, who runs fairly well for a catcher, got a good read on the ball but said he noticed it kick back toward Castro.
"I kind of tried to kick it into another gear just in case," Norris said. "Fortunately it kind of kicked to the right a little bit."
There was an element of redemption to the play for Norris. Norris reached on a two-out walk -- moving to third on Seth Smith's single -- but during his at-bat missed a sign for a hit-and-run that led to Chris Young being thrown out at second base for the second out of the inning.
Norris said he "just missed the sign, plain and simple. That's my fault." He said he tried to forget about the mistake immediately, but grinned when asked if it might have fueled him a little coming down the line on the passed ball.
"Maybe a little motivation trying to make up for it," he said. "Maybe."
* A couple more notes on Straily's outing:
-- Norris said Straily's command was actually "everywhere" in the first inning, despite his retiring the Cubs in order, and after Straily walked Anthony Rizzo with one out in the second Norris felt compelled to have a discussion with his pitcher:
"I went out and told him, listen, you've got to own the mound," Norris said. "You've got to own the mound and don't ever look back. Get on the mound and show these guys who you are, and show this coaching staff and front office what you can do and how you do it. He got out there and made a statement and did a great job."
It's a similar message to the one Norris gave Straily before his last run of good outings, which started with his seven shutout innings against the Rangers in Texas on May 21. The A's won that game 1-0 as well -- Straily beat Yu Darvish -- and now have seven shutouts on the season, with Straily starting two of them.
Straily said he followed Norris' game plan through most of Thursday's start, shaking the catcher off once in the first inning, and called Norris "the hero of the ballgame today."
-- Castillo and Castro were both asked about Straily's outing, and both said they were impressed by Straily's command. Castillo's take: "He was making his pitches. He didn't miss very often. I think you've got to tip your hat. I think it was his day."
* Grant Balfour converted his 21st save opportunity of the season and is now one shy of tying Dennis Eckersley's record of 40 consecutive opportunities converted. If Balfour does tie Eckersley, there's a good chance he'll do it on the road. The A's leave this evening for a six-game trip to Kansas City and Pittsburgh, returning home on July 12 for three games against the Red Sox before the All-Star break.
* Speaking of which, who had a mid-July series between the A's and Pirates circled as a matchup of league powers before the season? Pittsburgh started Thursday with the best record in baseball, and the A's are in first place in the A.L. West with 50 wins in their first 86 games for the first time since 1992.
* The A's wrapped up their eight-game homestand against the Reds, Cardinals and Cubs with a 6-2 record and, at 11-4 against N.L. teams, assured they'll have a winning record in interleague play this year. In other words, they keep rolling along into the second half of the season.
Here are the probable pitching matchups for the Kansas City series:
Friday: LHP Tommy Milone (7-7, 4.17) vs. RHP Wade Davis (4-6, 5.55)
Saturday: RHP Jarrod Parker (6-6, 4.11) vs. RHP Ervin Santana (5-5, 2.84)
Sunday: RHP A.J. Griffin (6-6, 3.95) vs. RHP Luis Mendoza (2-4, 4.41)
That's it for today. Happy Fourth of July, everybody.
-- Matt Kawahara