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LAND -- First-day jitters aside, catcher Derek Norris looked to be rather in tune with batterymate Travis Blackley on Thursday.
Making his Major League debut against the Dodgers, the 23-year-old Norris was on the receiving end of 21 first-pitch strikes. Only once did he allow the left-handed Blackley to reach a three-ball count, along with just one 2-0 count.
"Everything was working," Blackley said. "It was one of those days, you know?"
Together, the duo combined for eight superb innings of one-run ball, an efficient 87-pitch effort that included just three hits and culminated in a 4-1 A's victory -- topped by Yoenis Cespedes' first career walk-off home run in the ninth -- and a series sweep, the club's second in the last week.
And while Cespedes' dramatics made for a sexier headline, the effort displayed by the Blackley-Norris tandem, in opposition to Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, was equally deserving of praise. Kershaw also went eight innings, surrendering just one run.
"Any time you beat a guy like Kershaw after winning two and having your fifth starter match him pitch for pitch, once you get a guy out of the game, boy, you feel really good about your chances to win," manager Bob Melvin said.
Blackley has been a pleasant surprise for the A's, and Norris has potential to earn the same tag in time, too. The former, claimed off waivers by the Giants on May 15, has made what appears to be a permanent move into Oakland's rotation after toiling around in the bullpen for much of the early part of the season, following four seasons that only included Minor League action and stints in Korea and Australia.
Before May 27, Blackley had not started a big league game since September 2007, and he has allowed just two runs and eight hits over his last 14 innings spanning two starts. Thursday's eight-inning gem represented the first time in his career he surpassed the six-inning mark.
"I think, originally, we got him here and thought about getting him through waivers again and having him for depth in Triple-A," Melvin said. "He's pitched his way into the spot we have him in right now. He showed it in relief, elevated to a starting role out of need, and has been on his way since. It's really terrific the way he's pitched. I never would've envisioned him going eight innings today."
"Believing that I belong here, that was probably an issue a few years ago," Blackley said. "I wasn't believing in myself as much as I should have, and I always told myself if I was healthy and back here, I would really make a good go at it. It's all starting to go well."
Norris' journey, meanwhile, has just begun. Called up Thursday morning to offer relief for durable but struggling regular Kurt Suzuki, the rookie figures to see plenty of playing time. And if his first game behind the plate was any indication of what could be, Melvin may be facing a difficult lineup decision on a daily basis.
"I thought he called a terrific game, and here's a guy he's never seen before, let alone caught," Melvin said. "After about the first inning, I didn't see too many shakeoffs, and he really looked confident behind the plate. [He] caught the ball very well, especially glove-side on the inside part of the plate. For a guy catching his first game, had you not known that, you certainly wouldn't have thought that. [He showed] a lot of composure for a young kid."
"I just met him an hour before first pitch, but he's been around, knows what he's doing," Blackley said. "We stuck to the game plan, and it worked out in our favor. The first inning was huge. I got them 1-2-3. The second inning, I went 1-2-3, and the rhythm stayed the way it was."
Norris, who went 0-for-3 at the plate, naturally handed all the credit back to Blackley, not wanting to take any praise after just his first day on the job.
"Anytime a pitcher keeps getting ahead of hitters and he keeps pounding the strike zone, it makes it easier on me, because you immediately just go to his out pitches and his pitches that he wants to throw," Norris said. "You don't have to necessarily call a pitch to get it over for a strike. He did a fantastic job. Every pitch was working for him today.
"Real exciting game. Couldn't ask for a better finish. Very exhilarating experience."