February 3, 2023

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Full team effort fuels A's return to 'W' column

4 min read
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DETROIT — It was difficult to hear Paul Blackburn over the music booming from the visitors’ clubhouse at Comerica Park on Monday night, but the A’s starter loved what it symbolized. Fighting back a smile as he spoke about the team’s 2-0 win over the Tigers, Blackburn also waxed poetic at the end of a miserable nine-game losing streak.

“We’re 1-0 now in our last one, so win tomorrow and it’s a winning streak,” he said.

Monday’s series opener was certainly a relief for Oakland, and that was evident in the enthusiastic high fives on the field. Rather than rehash tales of bats ground nearly to sawdust as the A’s pressed through the funk, let’s instead break down how things finally came together.

No place like home
Can’t win a game without at least one run, and for the A’s — who were shut out twice in the four games entering Monday — they haven’t always been easy to come by. Oakland understood that the timely hits would eventually come, though, and in the series opener, they did.

There wasn’t a torrent of runs, but that wasn’t necessary as the pitching staff held the Tigers scoreless. Oakland connected off starter Michael Pineda early but didn’t break through until the third, when Tony Kemp launched his first home run of the season to give the A’s the only run they’d need. 

“Give some patience to the offense; we’re coming,” Kemp said. “… I’m just glad [Tigers right fielder Austin] Meadows didn’t rob a home run from me. It feels good to contribute to the team; we just have to continue to keep going.  

“When you’re on a losing streak, it feels like it’s never going to end, and it felt good just to slap hands with guys today.” 

Oakland added an insurance run in the fourth when Sean Murphy led off with a double, moved to third on a Seth Brown flyout and scored when Chad Pinder stroked a single to left. Pinder has recorded a hit in 15 of his 20 games.

King(s) of the hill
As has often been the case this season, the A’s pitching held its own. Blackburn set the tone early, limiting the Tigers to four hits — none of them in the same inning — across his 6 2/3 frames with no walks and three strikeouts. The outing should come as no surprise to those who’ve followed Blackburn this season, as the righty moved to 4-0 and lowered his ERA to 1.74 in six starts, tied for the eighth-lowest mark in MLB.

“I could talk about this every time Paul pitches,” said Sean Murphy, Blackburn’s batterymate. “He mixes all of his pitches, throwing to locations, keeping guys guessing, keeping everybody off-balance, pitching to contact, being efficient. All the good things you could say about a pitcher.”

Zach Jackson followed in Blackburn’s wake, striking out two during 1 1/3 perfect frames, and although things got a little hairy at the end, Dany Jiménez also held up his end of the bargain, punching out the side — including slugger Miguel Cabrera on a 96 mph four-seamer for the second out — to earn his fifth save and extend his spotless ERA to 12 innings in 12 games.

Kicking up dust
Oakland has committed 23 errors already, tied for second in MLB behind only the Pirates’ 26. Not only were the A’s flawless on Monday, they were flashy and fun to boot.

The Tigers threatened in the fourth when Meadows lined a two-out double into right field to bring Jonathan Schoop to the plate. Schoop sent a payoff pitch screaming up the third-base line at 105.3 mph but third baseman Kevin Smith leaped into the air and stretched across to rob Schoop of a hit and potential RBI. The knock had a hit probability of 65 percent, per Statcast.

Playing in the typical A’s defensive shift that took him well right of second base, shortstop Elvis Andrus also thwarted a potential rally before it even began in the second inning, sliding to his knees to backhand a 106.4 mph grounder off Meadows’ bat and firing to first base for the first out. 

“It was a complete game, and that’s what it takes to get out of these situations when you haven’t had success as a team,” Oakland manager Mark Kotsay said. “It takes a good group effort and, all-around tonight, I thought the team played really good baseball.”

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