December 9, 2022

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Pache's clutch HR backs Blackburn as 'confidence' builds

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His celebration matched the excitement coming from the Athletics’ bullpen in right-center field, where the 23-year-old’s ninth-inning homer landed to give Oakland a late lead it wouldn’t relinquish. The two-run blast revived the A’s, who had seen a four-run lead dissipate, spoiling another solid outing from starter Paul Blackburn.

Pache’s first blast as an Athletic silenced the Rogers Centre crowd, a dramatic response to what had been a four-run Toronto comeback. A central piece in the deal that sent Matt Olson to Atlanta, the young outfielder has starred early for the A’s. After his “Little League home run” lifted the A’s over the Rays on Thursday, Saturday’s clutch homer helped lock down a 7-5 win over the Blue Jays.

“Once it went over the fence, it was exciting,” manager Mark Kotsay said. “With [Christian] Bethancourt on first base, you figure if that ball hits off the wall there might be a play at home. But once it cleared the fence there was a lot of joy, let’s just say that.”

Blackburn left the game up three runs after five clean innings against another top American League offense. After tossing five shutout frames against the Rays in his 2022 debut, Blackburn leaned on his sinker and a new slider to keep Toronto hitters off-balance. The diving sinker helped gain nine ground-ball outs, while the breaking pitches dropped in for called strikes.

Pushing 70 pitches in the fifth, Blackburn pulled the string on a slider, perfectly dropping the delivery into the bottom corner of the strike zone to strike out Bradley Zimmer and send Blackburn marching around the mound. Four pitches later, Blackburn induced a soft grounder to Elvis Andrus to finish his start in line for the win.

For the second outing in a row, the A’s spotted Blackburn a comfortable lead, allowing him to take chances in the zone with 47 strikes on his 73 pitches. Sean Murphy clobbered a 425-foot home run in the third, a deep blast to left-center that cleared the first deck, to put Oakland up 5-1.

The Toronto offense eventually made its presence felt, knocking in three runs on five hits against Domingo Acevedo in the sixth, but Pache’s late blast corrected the blown save and gave Blackburn the team win he wanted.

“We’re the type of team that can’t lean on one guy to do everything,” Blackburn said. “For Pache to come up like that in a big situation and drive a good pitch to the opposite field, I mean, that’s impressive.”

Against teams over .500 last year, Blackburn was 0-4 with a 5.58 ERA. In his starts against the Rays and Jays to open 2022, the righty allowed two total runs in 10 innings. Pache, too, is off to a strong start with his new club, earning himself a souvenir game ball from his first Oakland homer that sat in his locker after the A’s win.

“I’m very grateful and I’m really happy to see that I have that strength to be able to hit a ball like that,” Pache said through an interpreter. “My confidence just continues to grow and I want to continue to keep doing that.”

For both Blackburn and Pache, tough early-season matchups bring certain challenges. But they’ve also provided the opportunity to build confidence, and through two weeks the pair has taken full advantage.

“Confidence is something that is built off success,” Kotsay said.

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