Keys to A's ending skid: 2 phone calls, 1 outburst, 1 grand slam

June 12th, 2022

CLEVELAND -- Entering a rebuild with tempered expectations for 2022, the A’s going through a bad stretch like the one they’ve been on the past two weeks isn’t entirely unexpected. That caveat, however, doesn’t make such a skid any less difficult for manager Mark Kotsay to handle.

A known fierce competitor throughout his 17-year playing career, Kotsay came into his debut year as a manager knowing he’d have to separate that emotion when navigating his club through the six-month grind of a season. Of course, doing so while enduring a losing streak that had reached double-digits is easier said than done. Luckily for Kotsay, he has a wealth of knowledge from other managers to lean on, including the one in the opposing dugout in this series.

After Cleveland handed Oakland its 10th straight defeat Friday night -- matching the club’s longest winless streak since 2011 -- Guardians manager Terry Francona reached out to Kotsay, a beloved former outfielder of his with the Red Sox from 2008-09, with some words of encouragement.

“I was trying to explain to him that you can’t let this define who you are,” Francona said of his chat with Kotsay. “I told him that I have to remind myself the same thing, because as many years as I’ve been doing this, when you lose, it kills you. And when it stops killing you, you probably need to do something different. But it’s still hard, because you care. This league isn’t set up equal, and he came into a tough spot.”

Francona wasn’t the only managerial peer Kotsay has heard from. Brewers skipper Craig Counsell, a best friend and teammate of Kotsay's with the Marlins from 1997-99 and the Brewers in 2011, also called Saturday morning to provide an important message.

“He said, ‘It’s a game, Kots. Don’t forget that,’” Kotsay said. “Don’t ever forget about the importance of your family and continue to go to work and prepare. That’s really all you can do. You can’t control the outcomes.”

For the A’s to snap out of this funk, Kotsay said they’d need to lean on veterans in the clubhouse for leadership. At age 27, Ramón Laureano may not be a ‘vet’ in the traditional sense, but his fiery presence has been well-documented over the past few years, and it certainly seemed to ignite the A’s to their 10-5 victory over the Guardians at Progressive Field on Saturday afternoon.

Trailing by three runs after six innings, a collective frustration from a group mired in a 10-game losing streak was fully exhaled by Laureano, who before getting ejected later in the game for arguing a pitch to Elvis Andrus that he felt was a balk, delivered his own emotional outburst inside the A’s dugout prior to the top of the seventh.

The A’s got that message loud and clear, putting together a five-run seventh that was highlighted by Seth Brown, who turned on a 3-2 fastball from Eli Morgan for a booming 425-foot blast that traveled well up the seats in right field for his first career grand slam.

“Emotions are running high,” Brown said. “I feed off Ramón when he brings that emotion. It’s something that’s contagious. He’s just a high-energy guy. It’s one of those things where we’re all pushing and all grinding, wanting to put runs up on the board. Hearing somebody let it loose, everybody was just like, ‘All right, let’s do this. Let’s get it going.’”

Brown’s slam was the first of four home runs the A’s wound up smashing over the game’s final three innings. Stephen Vogt added a solo homer in the eighth, while Christian Bethancourt and Sean Murphy each provided some insurance with their own solo blasts in the ninth.

Vogt was in the on-deck circle during Laureano’s impassioned plea, but he caught enough to get the gist of it.

“I just heard yelling,” Vogt said. “But if you weren’t frustrated, you shouldn’t be here. Ramón brings that fire. He brings that energy. For us to respond with a five-run inning, it’s been a long time coming. Guys had been swinging the bat really well, and we finally got some results.”

For an offense that entered Saturday ranked last in the Majors in batting average and on-base percentage while holding the second-lowest OPS and slugging percentage, matching a season-high four homers and scoring double-digit runs for just the second time was a much-needed pressure release. Not just for this hitting group, but also for the manager.

“Kotsay’s a phenomenal human and manager,” Brown said. “He’s been around baseball a lot longer than everybody here. He knows what’s going on. He’s pushing us and wanting us to get over that hump. He’s handled this as well as he can. A true professional.”