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OAK@HOU: Castro crushes three-run shot for the lead

HOUSTON -- The Astros named Bud Norris their No. 1 starter before the season and he did everything possible Saturday night to prove that he is the ace of their staff.

Norris pitched 5 2/3 innings in a 6-3 loss to Oakland, getting beat by three unearned runs in the sixth inning at Minute Maid Park.

"[Norris] did a tremendous job," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "Tonight, he grew up. He bowed his neck. He did what a No. 1 starter should do when the bullpen is light. He pitched his heart out."

Porter made a trip to the mound after Norris walked Brandon Moss to put runners on first and second with two outs in the sixth and the Astros still leading, 3-2. And left Norris in.

"You earned the right to win to this game," Porter said to Norris during the trip. "I'm going to give you the chance to do it.

"He wanted to be out there. He looked me straight in the eye and said, 'Skip, I want this.'

"I'm not coming to get you," Porter told Norris. "I just wanted to let you know that you've earned the right to keep this ball and win this game."

It didn't happen.

Josh Donaldson singled to right on a full count to drive in the tying run.

"I made a pretty good pitch, but he found a hole out there," Norris said. "It's kind of a tough break. If you're going to pitch deep into games, you're going to have to make pitches."

Oakland added two more singles off reliever Wesley Wright to take the lead for good at 5-3.

"I threw real well," Norris said. "I got behind in a couple of counts."

Despite throwing 122 pitches, Norris said he wasn't tired.

"I felt strong as the game went on," he said. "I felt strong in the sixth inning and they got a few hits that fell in. It was a long inning."

"He's an experienced guy," Porter said of Norris. "He's pitching on one-plus day [of rest]. He didn't have any strenuous innings leading up to that inning. All that goes into account. The biggest thing is he's our No. 1 starter."

Norris liked the idea of moving up a day in the rotation, pushing Erik Bedard's first start to Tuesday in Seattle.

"I wanted to go," Norris said. "You want to go every five or six days, or you lose your mojo. I felt strong and ready to go. I think I showed a little bit of it."

Jed Lowrie, the former Astro, led off the fateful sixth inning with a homer and the key play occurred when shortstop Ronny Cedeno misplayed Josh Reddick's hard ground ball for an error.

"The biggest play of the game was the error," Porter said.

"That's tough," Norris said of losing the game on three unearned runs. "I almost got out of it. I got the next two guys. Then a 3-2 walk to Moss and a 3-2 base hit to Donaldson. It wasn't like they hit scorchers off the wall."

The A's got just enough hits to win the game.

"Josh Donaldson's at-bat is the best at-bat of the game," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He gets behind and then works it to 3-2 and hits a slider, which ends up being a huge hit. Good starters, there are a couple of different ways to beat them. You try to get them early or you try to get their pitch counts up and get them when they're vulnerable. He threw a lot of pitches in six innings, but he's got good stuff. I can see why they like him a lot."

Norris understood Oakland's strategy.

"I know what they're trying to do," he said. "They're trying to get me out of the game and get into the bullpen."

The Astros' bullpen has been shaky so far this year.

Houston finally showed some offense, taking a 3-1 lead in the fourth inning on singles by Carlos Pena and Justin Maxwell, followed by Jason Castro's three-run, opposite-field home run.

Cedeno had a tough night, going 0-for-4 in the No. 2 spot in the lineup as well making the decisive error.

"I got a bad hop at the last second," Cedeno said. "[Reddick] hit it hard. Sometimes, the ball is hit hard. I was ready to field the ball, but I got a bad hop at the last second. Sometimes, you make errors. It's kind of sad. Norris pitched a good game."

Castro felt bad for his pitcher.

"He did a tremendous job with his offspeed [pitches]," Castro said. "It's tough. I'm able to empathize with the pitchers more."

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