February 2, 2023

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Celebrated '72 team can serve as model for young A's

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OAKLAND — Handling an inexperienced roster that has seen 19 rookies used this season, A’s manager Mark Kotsay has made a point of imparting the franchise’s rich tradition of players that came before them. Saturday afternoon provided another prime opportunity for one of those important history lessons.

With a reunion taking place at the Coliseum for the 50th anniversary of the 1972 A’s squad that brought Oakland its first World Series title, this current group of A’s had a chance to rub shoulders with Hall of Famers and legends such as Rollie Fingers, Reggie Jackson and Vida Blue during a pregame ceremony.

“The history is in our clubhouse, and you feel that,” Kotsay said. “Having these guys come back today, it’s impactful for our culture to recognize their accomplishments and understand that they were a team that really stuck together, played together and won together. We need that as a group as well. Understand the history and success of this organization, and how it was built.”

Reaching the successful heights of a club such as that ’72 team is always the goal. Of course, the process to get there is not easy, especially for a team that finds itself at the start of a rebuild. Seeking to identify which pieces of a roster could be a key part of the future means there will be some major growing pains along the way, something the A’s continued battling in Saturday’s 8-0 loss to the Red Sox.

After going 10-21 through the month of May, the A’s are winless through the first four days of June. Having dropped 15 of their last 20 games, they’re on pace to lose over 100 games for just the second time in Oakland history, which spans more than 50 years since the club moved to California in 1968.

The closeness of games early in the season has at times provided hope that this group isn’t far off from a breakthrough. Entering Saturday, a total of nine one-run losses were tied for most in the American League. This blowout at the hands of Boston, which marked the seventh time the A’s have been shut out this season, provided a reality of their situation. Most days, the talent disparity will be too much to overcome.

“We haven’t had a lot of losses like this,” Kotsay said. “Unfortunately, the game just got away from us. This is one that is not pretty. It doesn’t feel good. It’s one we’ve got to move on from.”

With the offense statistically performing as one of baseball’s worst in several categories, the A’s have been helped by solid pitching, both in the rotation and bullpen. Paul Blackburn, who carried a 2.15 ERA prior to his start that ranked sixth-lowest in the AL, has emerged as one of the league’s better pitchers through the first two months of the season. But on Saturday, the right-hander’s uncharacteristic lack of command led to his shortest outing of the year, allowing four runs on seven hits through just four innings against the Red Sox.

The bullpen also struggled in relief of Blackburn, allowing a manageable deficit to inflate after Boston put up four runs against Domingo Tapia in the eighth.

“This bullpen, up until recently, has performed,” Kotsay said. “You look at the makeup of this ‘pen, they’re young. There’s not a ton of experience, outside of [Lou] Trivino in the back end. You’re going to go through stretches during the year where you take your lumps. You have to learn from it, grow and get better. That’s the message in that room right now for the back-end of the bullpen. Continue to lean on the success they’ve had and flush the failures right now.”

Offensively, the A’s found little success against Red Sox starter Nick Pivetta, who twirled seven scoreless before handing it off to his relievers. Overall, Oakland collected just four hits while leaving five runners on base and going 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position.

Kotsay singled out some positives from the offensive side, noting a liner by Seth Brown in the fourth that was tagged 101.2 mph off the bat with an expected batting average of .740. The ball appeared ticketed to right field for what would have likely been an RBI single. Instead, Trevor Story made a perfectly-timed leap to snag the ball for the second out of the inning.

“Guys are frustrated with some of the at-bats,” Kotsay said. “I think that frustration comes from when you take a good at-bat and don’t get the result. Seth Brown’s line-drive out into the shift where the second baseman is playing shallow right field, that’s probably a hit a hundred percent of the time. With a runner on third, it’s a momentum hit that gets taken from us.”

With the losses piling up, Kotsay remains focused on keeping his club’s spirits up. It’s a trait that he was often praised for displaying as a player, and one that surely could come in handy as he goes through his rookie season as a manager.

“We’ve got to fight through it and find a way,” Kotsay said. “That’s the message right now: Go out and find a way.”

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