OAKLAND -- When Michael Soroka's promising career was derailed for nearly three years -- which featured numerous setbacks, including a pair of Achilles tendon tears -- two things in particular kept him motivated while he worked his way back.
"A day like today, and the people that believed in me," Soroka said Monday night. "I've always said I was going to be back here for the people that believed in me, not the ones that said I couldn't. … There's been some people in my corner for a long, long time that have stuck by me. It's a day for them, too."
"He wasn't going to stop," manager Brian Snitker said pregame. "He knows what he has in front of him and still has a lot of time to have a really nice career. It's not easy to do that."
Said Soroka: "It is a second debut, in a way."
The 25-year-old right-hander's final line wasn't eye-popping, as Soroka allowed four runs on five hits and two walks, striking out three. But his outing began with four shutout frames -- thanks in part to an assist from Eddie Rosario, whose leaping catch at the left-field wall robbed A's utility man Aledmys Díaz of a home run in the second inning.
After a strong start to the day, Soroka said his emotions may have gotten the better of him.
"I think I did a decent job of keeping those put away for a little bit," Soroka said. "Going out after the fourth, I started really feeling it a little bit. I made some real good pitches and started to try and do a little too much. I think that's when I let the emotions creep in."
All of the A's damage against Soroka came in the form of a four-run fifth inning that was punctuated by Ryan Noda's three-run blast on a changeup that was down in the zone. It erased the one-run lead the Braves had carried into the frame, but Soroka nonetheless got a standing ovation from the large crowd of visiting fans when he got out of the inning.
The support Soroka received from the stands throughout the game was not lost on him.
"I know it'll be a taste of what's to come in Atlanta," he said. "I think that's another day when emotions are going to have to be kept behind to be able to go out there and get some zeros."
Soroka went out for one more inning after that, issuing a free pass but allowing nothing else. In total, he threw 83 pitches -- 55 for strikes -- and was satisfied with how his stuff played.
"We were getting the swings we wanted; we were getting good results when we made our pitches," backstop Sean Murphy said. "I think that's all you can ask."
Prior to Monday, it had been 1,029 days since Soroka had last thrown a pitch in a Major League game. He sustained a right Achilles tendon tear after running off the mound to cover first base in his third start of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, then re-tore that same tendon less than one year later while walking into the home clubhouse at Truist Park.
"It was devastating," said Travis d'Arnaud, who caught Soroka's last outing in 2020. "It shows how strong he was mentally, to go this long and still have the drive to want to be successful and go back and still be able to pitch in the big leagues. I'm just so happy for him."
When Soroka was first sidelined, he was coming off an All-Star 2019 campaign. The Braves' righty finished second in National League Rookie of the Year voting and sixth in NL Cy Young Award voting, posting a 2.68 ERA over 29 starts.
There's no guarantee that Soroka can consistently perform at that level, but with Max Fried and Kyle Wright likely sidelined until July, he has a chance to prove that he belongs in Atlanta's rotation for good.
For the time being, Soroka hopes that he can put the past three-odd years behind him and continue to move forward.
"We can think of it as this big story, and I'd prefer to just think of it as a bump in the road," Soroka said. "Hopefully we're looking back on this in a long, long time … and this feels like a long time ago as well."