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CHC@OAK: Straily holds Cubs to one hit over seven

OAKLAND -- It's not Dan Straily's responsibility to think when he's on the mound. That job belongs to the catcher.

Derek Norris is the brains behind Oakland's battery. The A's catcher does the majority of the scouting and calls the pitches, flashing signals with conviction and persistence. Straily, making his first start for the A's since a brief hiatus in Triple-A Sacramento, didn't know who on the Cubs was right- or left-handed until he arrived at the ballpark before Thursday's series finale at the Coliseum.

The A's went on to win 1-0 after Norris raced home on a passed ball in the seventh inning, but it was his handling of Straily, and eventually closer Grant Balfour -- who went on to convert his 39th consecutive game (over two seasons) to move within one of Dennis' Eckersley's team record -- that was most essential to Oakland (50-36) improving to 11-4 in Interleague Play this season.

Straily's win Thursday extended his winning streak to a career-high four games after tossing seven innings and a career-low one hit, striking out six and walking three. The Cubs had just two hits all day and advanced two baserunners into scoring position all game.

"I noticed when I shook him, he put the same finger down and started setting up, so I knew that he had done his homework and he knew the hitters a lot better than I did," Straily said. "I guess you could say we were on the same page, which was his page all day, so it was a good win."

It began with a message midway through the second inning. With one out and a runner on first, Norris approached the mound with advice that teetered along the lines of serving as a challenge to the second-year starter.

"'Own the mound, you got to own the mound,'" Oakland's catcher said to Straily. "Right or wrong, you got to get on the mound and can't ever look back. Get on the mound right now and show these guys who you are, and show this coaching staff and the front office what you can do and how you do it."

Straily stuck out the next two batters.

The maxim was one close to Norris' own mindset. Just recently, he has shown signs of ending a 4-for-39 slump that lasted 13 games. He went 5-for-9 over his last four contests, citing a revamped approach at the plate as the reason for his success.

"I can correlate to a certain extent with some of that," Norris said. "I know some of the struggles he's been going through and I know the pitcher he can be. We've seen it in flashes, but we just haven't seen it consecutively throughout the span of a month or whatever it is you want to talk about.

"It's just coming in with that mentality every time, knowing this is my inning, not theirs. This is my at-bat, not theirs."

The lone single hit off Straily nearly gave Chicago the lead when Alfonso Soriano drove an 0-2 slider into left field with Starlin Castro on second base, but left fielder Yoenis Cespedes threw out Castro at home to maintain the scoreless tie -- an encouraging sign from Cespedes, who made three rough plays the previous day that resulted in two triples and a double.

"Anywhere the runner is, I know he's got a shot," Norris said. "He's got that good of an arm. I knew if he got it anywhere within a five-foot vicinity, we were going to have a chance of getting him out. He put it right on the button and hit me in the chest."

"I was shocked that anybody could get thrown out on that," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.

Norris followed Cespedes by throwing out Soriano at second on an attempted steal. The Cubs' only other scoring opportunity came in the ninth, with Balfour eliminating the threat by forcing a Soriano fly ball to end the game.

The A's, donning commemorative white caps with red bills and a star-infused blue insignia in honor of Independence day, went hitless in two at-bats with runners in scoring position of their own. Seth Smith struck out swinging with Nate Freiman on second base in the second inning, and Cespedes grounded out to third base with Jed Lowrie on third with two outs in the sixth.

Cubs starter Travis Wood shut down the scoring chances by retiring 11 consecutive batters, and he struck out five and allowed three hits in six scoreless innings.

Chris Young reached first on a single in the seventh but was subsequently thrown out trying to steal second four pitches later. Norris walked in the same at-bat and Seth Smith followed with a single, with Norris coming home on the passed ball for the deciding run.

Home runs had been Oakland's sole source for runs since the fourth inning of Tuesday's 8-7 win to start the series prior to the passed ball. Norris hit a three-run, go-ahead blast in Tuesday's eighth inning, while Brandon Moss' solo shot was an anomaly in an offensively-limited game on Wednesday.

"He's the hero of the day back there behind the plate," Straily said of Norris.

A's manager Bob Melvin said after the game that Straily's outing was everything he could've hoped for. With the A's returning to a five-man rotation after a short stretch of the schedule that only required four starters, the right-hander continues to solidify himself within the rest of Oakland's starters, who are 22-7 with a 3.08 ERA over the last 44 games.

"You just do the same thing every single day, and sometimes you [stink] and sometimes you're really good," Straily said, quoting former teammate Brandon McCarthy. "It's just being really good more than you [stink]. Obviously that's not the greatest way to say it, but it got the point across.

"You go out there every single day and be yourself, and you're going to have ups and you're going to have downs. It's just about not getting to high on the highs and too low on the lows and going out every fifth day and competing with everything you have."

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