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Norris nails a three-run shot to deep left

OAKLAND -- Bartolo Colon and Derek Norris were born 16 years apart, but one is pitching like a kid in his prime, while the other happens to be wise beyond his years.

It's a likeable combination for this A's battery, which was a big part of Oakland's 6-4 series-opening victory over the visiting Yankees, who have dropped five straight at the Coliseum.

Overall, the A's have taken eight of their last 11 against New York, with Tuesday's win knotting them in a first-place tie with the Rangers in the American League West.

Even more, at 39-17, Oakland has its best record after 66 games since 1992.

Norris was 3 years old at the time. Colon was a year away from signing with the Indians.

Now together in Oakland, the duo perfectly reflects a system that, in recent years, has had to rely on a recipe that mixes in a bevy of young -- really young -- talent, topped off with a sprinkling of veterans who feel they have a bit left in the tank before retirement.

Frank Thomas. Nomar Garciaparra. Hideki Matsui. All played some of their final days with the A's before opting to shut it down. Colon is now doing the same, and he's thriving.

The A's right-hander uncharacteristically walked a season-high four batters, after issuing just six in his previous 77 1/3 innings, but allowed just three hits to his former team in six scoreless innings on this night.

Norris, meanwhile, was responsible for more than half of his team's runs, finishing the game with a career-high four RBIs.

Three resulted from the first pitch lefty CC Sabathia threw his way in the fourth inning, which Norris, lined over the left-center field wall. Oakland's catcher, previously mired in an 0-for-14 slump, also watched his second-inning popup blooper drop for an RBI double in the second.

"Any time I can contribute and scratch some runs across the board to help out our ballclub," Norris said, "I'm obviously going to take advantage of any chance I have to do it."

"We talk so much about his defense and the job he does behind the plate and the way he handles the pitching staff, so it's awesome to be able to talk about the three-run homer and the four RBIs he had tonight," said reliever Sean Doolittle, who pitched a scoreless seventh. "He does so much that kind of goes unnoticed, at least in the box score, trying to step up and be a leader on this team. For him to get that big hit, I was obviously really happy for him, because that's good to see."

But Norris, ever the gentleman, wanted to talk more about the other guy.

"He's throwing the ball great," Norris said. "You couldn't ask any more of him. He's a great competitor and a great pitcher, and it's a pleasure to be back there working with him.

"Catching is always going to override the hitting. Any time I get a chance to get guys through innings, regardless of how they start or how they finish, that's my job. He was fantastic for us."

Colon has allowed just one run over his last 31 innings to lower his ERA to 2.92, ninth best in the AL, and hasn't lost in more than a month.

"His ball moves," said Yankees catcher Chris Stewart. "It does different things at different times. Sometimes it's going more side to side, sometimes it's going more down. He's tough. He uses both sides of the plate, he doesn't really throw the same pitch twice. He just keeps you off balance."

Sabathia, on the other hand, has allowed at least four runs in four of his last five starts, after giving up six in six innings to the A's, his ERA in 27 career starts against them now at 4.66 -- and an AL-ballpark high 5.29 at the Coliseum for the former Vallejo High School star.

He was touched early, as Coco Crisp sent a 1-0 pitch into the left-field stands, giving the A's a lead they would never relinquish in their first win since Friday, having dropped two straight in Chicago thereafter for the first time since mid-May before enjoying an off-day Monday.

The rest clearly did them some good, though all of these efforts nearly went for naught in the ninth, when Grant Balfour entered with runners at the corners at two outs, holding a four-run lead.

Mark Teixeira's two-run base hit, scoring each of Ryan Cook's runners, narrowed it to two, and Travis Hafner followed with a long fly ball that had a chance at going out.

But it didn't. And Balfour walked away with his 16th save of the season and 34th in as many chances dating back to last April.

"When he hit it," manager Bob Melvin said, "I didn't think it was going as far as it did on a cold night to the opposite field. I know he's a strong guy and we were ahead of the count -- he was 0-2 again. But I didn't think it was going that far. Once I saw [Seth] Smith go back to the wall I thought it might go off the wall but I didn't think it was going out."

Not on a night that was clearly meant for Colon and Norris to share.

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