OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Gathered in the indoor batting cage hours before the game, manager Mark Kotsay talked to his Oakland Athletics players during an advance meeting about the Atlanta Braves and reiterated all the little things it would take to win a game.
Ryan Noda hit a three-run homer that spoiled Michael Soroka's long-awaited return to the majors from two separate tears of his right Achilles tendon, and the A's beat the NL East-leading Braves 7-2 Monday night to snap an 11-game losing streak with just their 11th win of the season.
“There was good energy,” Kotsay said. “Obviously, ending the losing streak was big. That was definitely something that weighed on the guys. But to see the enthusiasm in the dugout, especially when Noda hits a three-run homer that puts us up, they kind of came alive and that was a good sign.”
In another comeback story, A’s right-hander Paul Blackburn came off the injured list to make his season debut, striking out six with a pair of walks over four innings. He allowed four hits and one run as the Athletics (11-45) won for only the second time in 16 games. Oakland had more losses through 55 games than any other major league team since 1900.
“We've been just needing that one little good swing, good play, good pitch,” Noda said. “We've come so close. Nice day.”
Blackburn had been sidelined with a torn nail on the middle finger of his pitching hand. He also dealt with a blister - this after ending last season on the injured list because that same finger was inflamed with a torn flexor tendon sheath.
Lucas Erceg (1-0) worked three shutout innings of hitless relief with four strikeouts for his first big league win. Pitching back home in the Bay Area after being acquired from Milwaukee in a May 17 trade, he fought the emotions of the moment - after cleaning up from a celebratory dousing, that is.
“It was anything and everything being poured on me. Just another moment for me to think back on later in life. It's something I'll never forget,” said the former infielder, so thankful for “the outpour of support that I've gotten from old teammates and friends growing up in the Bay Area.”
He referenced his struggles with alcohol - which went along with depression - that led to his sobriety beginning almost three years ago in June 2020.
Braves slugger Matt Olson hit his 17th homer in the eighth off Shintaro Fujinami. Oakland responded in the bottom half by getting RBI singles from Ramón Laureano, Shea Langeliers and Jace Peterson to make it 7-2.
Soroka gave up four runs and five hits in six innings for Atlanta, tied with the Dodgers for the best record in the National League. He struck out three, walked two and left trailing 4-1.
The right-hander was called up from Triple-A Gwinnett to start against the A's on Memorial Day - a whopping 1,030 days between outings for the Braves’ 2020 opening-day starter.
“I always said I was going to be back here for the people that believed in me, not the ones that said I couldn’t,” Soroka said.
The 25-year-old pitcher received cheers from Braves fans as he ran out to the mound for the bottom of the first to make his 38th career start and first big league appearance since Aug. 3, 2020. He seemed unfazed by the moment, calmly retiring the side in order in the first on 13 pitches.
Left fielder Eddie Rosario made a leaping catch at the wall to start the second, robbing Aledmys Díaz of a home run as Soroka watched in delight.
“Let’s go, Michael!” one fan yelled.
Soroka (0-1) didn’t allow a hit until Jonah Bride’s one-out single in the third but quickly loaded the bases with another single and a hit batter. He emerged unscathed after inducing Seth Brown's inning-ending double play.
But then Soroka plunked Langeliers with a pitch to begin the fifth and gave up an RBI single to Esteury Ruiz before Noda’s drive gave Oakland a 4-1 lead.
Sean Murphy had staked Soroka to a 1-0 lead with an RBI single in the first against his former team.
Soroka went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 2019 to finish second in NL Rookie of the Year voting and sixth for the Cy Young Award. He first tore his Achilles on Aug. 3, 2020, and then had more hard luck. A setback led to a follow-up surgery, then he tore the same Achilles again while rehabbing midway through the 2021 season.
This spring, Soroka had another complication in his comeback because of a hamstring injury.
“It’s been a whirlwind and I’m kind of excited to put that story line behind us now and get back to putting up zeros,” Soroka said.
ON A ROLL
Braves third baseman Austin Riley extended his season-best hitting streak to 12 games with a first-inning single.
Athletics: LHP Kirby Snead and RHP Freddy Tarnok, each dealing with a strained pitching shoulder, are set to throw two simulated innings apiece Tuesday and then do that another time before beginning their rehab assignments.
The A's recalled Bride from Triple-A Las Vegas, optioned RHP Garrett Acton to Las Vegas and designated 1B/DH Jesús Aguilar for assignment.
Braves RHP Bryce Elder (3-0, 2.01 ERA) starts the middle game of the series Tuesday night opposite LHP JP Sears (0-3, 4.70).
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