“Clutch Norris” leads A’s three-headed catching monster

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OAKLAND — There is one lone sticker on the nameplates in the A’s locker room. It boasts the words “Clutch Norris” above Derek Norris’ stall.

Never have the words been more true than Tuesday night when the catcher came off the bench in the sixth inning and collected the team’s final five RBI over two at-bats, including the game winner.

He became the 21st player and fourth Athletic in MLB history to enter the game as a substitute and collect at least five RBI, joining fellow A’s Mickey Tettleton, Erubiel Durazo (2004) and Seth Smith (2012) on the short list.

“That doesn’t really happen too often,” Norris acknowledged after his fourth career pinch-hit home run. “Never had a five-RBI game off the bench.”

But Norris was only one of three catchers to contribute in the A’s 10-6 win over Yu Darvish and the rival Rangers.

[RECAP: A’s 10, Rangers 6]

Norris, Stephen Vogt and John Jaso combined to go 7-for-8 with seven RBI and three runs in support of winning pitcher Tommy Milone.

“It’s a lot of fun right now,” Milone said after extending his career high-tying winning streak to five games. “Especially when they’re all in the lineup together, it seems like they are all producing.”

“It’s awesome,” said Vogt. “It’s a three-headed … catching … situation.”

It sounded like he wanted to call the catching trio a “three-headed monster” and resisted, but it wouldn’t have been an overstatement.

“We have three guys that could start in a number of places,” Melvin said. “It’s a luxury.”

Still, after pinning Darvish with his eighth loss in 10 starts against Oakland, the A’s are not ready to claim they’ve figured him out.

“We’re fortunate,” Melvin said after the game. “As far as that quality a pitcher that you end up having success against, I’d have to think for a while.”

Darvish, who can take solace in reaching the 600-strikeout milestone in the first inning, is now 0-2 with a 7.02 ERA in three starts against the A’s this year. He’s lost eight of 10 career starts against Oakland.

“I don’t know what it is about Darvish’s style that just fits into our hitting pattern,” Norris said. “One through nine, that guy was just grinding. Every guy that came up, it was a battle.

“I can only imagine that it can be a little frustrating. Sometimes good pitchers just have that one kryptonite team.”

The sticker above Norris’ locker might as well have have read “Superman” on Tuesday.

Bryce Harper is really just a tiny bit better Adam Lind when you think about it

Associated Press
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Tom Boswell of the Washington Post writes about an important matter facing the Washington Nationals over the next year: what to do about Bryce Harper, who is entering his walk year and will be a free agent a little over 12 months from now.

That’s a fine and important question. The Nats do need to decide whether to offer Harper a long term deal, when to offer it and, above all else, how big that deal should be. Should it be $300 million? $400 million? Should it be conventional or unconventional, with opt-outs and such? It’s not every day that a generational talent comes along and it’s even more rare that the generational talent hits free agency at the age of 26, so the decisions facing the Nationals are not easy ones.

Boswell acknowledges that bit of trickiness, but he also, strangely, spends a whole lot of time trying to portray Harper as an ordinary talent. He starts with health, comparing him poorly with Stephen Strasburg, who is ranked 30th in games started over the past five years. In contrast . . .

In those same five years, Harper ranks 90th in games played, just 126 a season, and now he says he should have skipped quite a few more games in 2016 when he had a balky shoulder. That’s almost six weeks out per season.

Nowhere in the column is it mentioned that the several weeks he missed in 2017 was the result of a freak injury in wet conditions and that, despite that, Harper worked his tail off to come back and be ready for the postseason. Not that Boswell doesn’t mention the postseason of course . . .

Harper, for the fourth time, failed to lead his team out of the first round and has career playoff batting average and OPS marks of .215 and .801. By the high standards of right fielders, he’s Mr. Average in October.

I suppose it’s not Boswell’s job to refrain from insulting a player on the team he covers, but he certainly seems hellbent on insulting not only Harper, but our own intelligence via comparisons like this:

In the past five years, in those 126 games, Harper averaged 26 homers, 72 RBI and a .288 average. Over the last nine years, Adam Lind averaged 128 games, 20 homers, 70 RBI and hit .273. That’s selective stat mining. Harper is much better, in part because he walks so much. But Harper and Lind in the same sentence?

“A person can eat delicious chocolate cake or lead paint chips. The chocolate cake is much better, but chocolate cake and lead paint in the same sentence?” I guess Boswell gets points for acknowledging that it was a misleading comparison, but if he thinks it is, why make it in the first place? If you want to eliminate this one as an outlier, cool, because he makes a lot of other comparisons like that in the piece.

This is not necessarily new for Boswell. Here’s something he wrote about Harper in 2014:

Harper has not driven in 60 runs in either of his two seasons. He has only five RBI this year. He’s never had more than 157 runs-plus-RBI. Ryan Zimmerman has had between 163 and 216 six times. Adam LaRoche, no big star, has had 175 or more three times. Fourth outfielder Nate McLouth once had 207. Can we get a grip? Counting their three top starting pitchers, Harper may be the Nats’ seventh-best player. If forced to choose whether Harper or Anthony Rendon would have the better career, I’d think twice. Harper is in a self-conscious, fierce scowl-off with baseball. Rendon dances with it and grins. Baseball loves relaxed.

That was written 16 games into his age-22 season.

I’m not sure what Boswell’s beef with Harper is. I’m not sure why he’s contorting himself to portray him as an ordinary player when he is fairly extraordinary and, most certainly, a special case when it comes to his impending free agency. In his career he already has 26.1 career bWAR, 150 homers, an MVP Award under his belt and, if it wasn’t for that freak injury in August, would have a strong case for a second one. Guy has a career line of .285/.386/.515 and he turned 26 four days ago. He’s younger than Aaron Judge.

My view of things is that players should ignore the media for the most part, but they don’t always do that. Sometimes the hostility or criticism of the local press — especially from the most respected portions of the local press who have the ability to shape fan sentiment — gets to them.

Which is to say that, if this kind of noise keeps up, I wouldn’t be shocked if Harper puts up a line of .340/.480/.650 in 2018 and then walked the hell out of D.C. for New York or Chicago or L.A. or something. Would anyone blame him?