December 5, 2022

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A's win home opener with new faces, familiar scrappy spirit

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OAKLAND — Cristian Pache’s exuberance displayed through the A’s season-opening 10-game road trip made a quick impression on the club’s fan base. That was clear before Oakland’s home opener on Monday night, when the center fielder emerged from the dugout during pregame introductions and received the loudest ovation of any player in the starting lineup.

It’s easy to see why Pache has already endeared himself to the Oakland faithful. So far, when the A’s win this season, the 23-year-old center fielder usually plays a key role. In Monday’s 5-1 win over the Orioles at the Coliseum, Pache once again put himself in the middle of the action.

As the A’s offense broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth by taking advantage of a couple of defensive miscues by Baltimore’s infield, Pache strode to the plate and delivered a big blow, capping the four-run frame with an RBI single to center. Shortly after making contact on the pitch from Orioles reliever Marcos Diplán, he stared down at his left hand and swung his right fist through the air while running toward first base, generating a buzz from the crowd, which was waving yellow rally towels in the air.

“That’s just something that came out of me naturally,” Pache said of his gesture. “They threw me the fastball and I connected for a hit, so it just came out of me. My Dominican pride showing.”

Getting a taste of what it’s like to play at the Coliseum was something Pache had been looking forward to since his trade to the A’s in March. Though he didn’t know much about the team or the area, he quickly became aware of the passionate fan base through social media interactions.

On Monday, Pache received plenty of love, whether standing on first base after his big hit or taking center field on defense and seeing the adoration from the fans sitting in the bleachers.

“I missed that energy from the fans because we were playing only games on the road,” Pache said. “Coming home, I put on that white uniform and felt the energy from the fans. The support they showed us tonight was incredible. I felt very comfortable in my first game here.”

Pache’s RBI single impacted the contest in more ways than one. Aside from giving the A’s a 5-1 lead, it also gave manager Mark Kotsay an easier decision to pull starter Frankie Montas, who had been dealing through six innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts. Immediately after Pache’s hit, Montas received word that his night was over at 83 pitches, and he received hugs all around from his teammates in the dugout.

The hugs were well earned. Not allowing a hit until the fifth inning — a two-out RBI double by Austin Hays — Montas continued to show off a splitter that is looking like one of the more unhittable pitches in baseball. Entering Monday’s outing, batters were hitless in 18 at-bats against his split.

Against Baltimore, Montas generated six of his 12 whiffs (swings-and-misses) with the splitter and used it as the putaway pitch on four of his five strikeouts.

“Another excellent outing by Frankie,” Kotsay said. “We had a long inning there after the sixth. I thought to send him back out, but because of that lengthy inning we were able to put up offensively, I felt good about going to the bullpen.”

Prior to Monday’s game, Kotsay said the A’s are not a team that relies on individuals, but rather one that comes together as a unit. That formula was certainly true to form by night’s end.

There was Pache’s hitting and Montas’ stellar work on the mound, for one, as well as a shorthanded bullpen getting the job done.

The defense also turned in some slick plays, such as Billy McKinney and Sean Murphy cutting down the speedy Jorge Mateo at the plate or Seth Brown’s impressive throw home in the seventh to nab Trey Mancini for an inning-ending double play.

Add it all together, and this was a home opener that gave Oakland fans further promise that despite the several new faces on the roster, these A’s carry that same mentality from successful clubs of years past.

“A lot of energy in the building tonight,” Kotsay said. “That’s exciting for us as a club to come home and feel that warm welcome. Look forward to those type of crowds continuing forward. We’re somewhat young but somewhat experienced, and we’ve got a good group that plays with passion and energy.”

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