OAKLAND -- The A's have awaited the return of ace starter Frankie Montas for most of July. With the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline approaching, surely many of the other 29 teams in baseball have, too.
Montas made his first start since leaving his July 3 outing in Seattle with right shoulder inflammation in Game 2 of Thursday's doubleheader against the Tigers at Oakland Coliseum. But while Montas' three scoreless innings set the table nicely, it was an offensive outburst that stole the show.
The A's rode a five-run sixth inning to a 5-0 win, splitting the twin bill after dropping the first game, 7-2. It was a full-team effort, as Oakland pitchers combined to shut out their opponent for just the sixth time this season and the bats got hot at the right time, but the win felt even more satisfying because it came just hours after a difficult loss.
"You just kind of let your breath out there, based on not having scored in five innings, feeling the loss from the previous game, but that's part of the game," manager Mark Kotsay said. "These guys realize that it can turn on a dime, and you're only as good as your next at-bat."
Tigers pitchers had stymied the A's lineup all day, holding them to five hits in Game 1 and two through the first five innings of Game 2. So when Vimael Machín and Ramón Laureano led off the bottom of the sixth with back-to-back base hits, it was a welcome sign that the A's might at long last have something going.
Sean Murphy hit next, and he wasted no time in giving the A's their first lead of the day, walloping a 0-1 pitch deep to left-center. It was Murphy's 10th home run of the season, a booming three-run shot that traveled a projected 447 feet at 107.8 mph off the bat, per Statcast.
"That at-bat really helped switch gears," Kotsay said. "It was a big, big hit."
As it turned out, Murphy didn't just hit the ball hard -- his aim was also spot-on, as the ball flew clear through an open window of one of the suites that line the outfield. Murphy was surprised to learn that he had managed to deposit the ball into the suite so cleanly.
"That's a pretty good shot," he said, a little taken aback. "It's tough to hit it through the window for sure, just that angle."
Not only that, but the suite where the ball landed was strikingly familiar to Kotsay.
"Unbelievable aim," Kotsay said. "I think as a player, that was my suite when I played here back in '06, so my family would have gotten a ball."
The three-run blast wasn't the end of the scoring, as the A's strung together a few more base hits to bring two more runners around. Five runs is the third most the A's have scored in a single inning this season, trailing a six-run eighth on July 11 and an eight-run 12th on July 12.
The big inning has eluded the A's for much of 2022, as Oakland's 313 runs scored this season trail only Detroit (295) for the dubious honor of the fewest in the Majors. But as the saying goes, hitting is contagious -- and the A's are slowly but surely beginning to feel better at the plate.
"Seeing your teammates put together good at-bats inspires you to do the same," Murphy said. "Guys aren't trying to do too much, or do it themselves. Those things lead to big innings."
The A's offensive woes in 2022 can't be resolved in a single game -- Oakland's .211/.272/.331 team slashline is the worst in baseball -- but they have had moments, like on Thursday, when everything clicks. The next step from here is building on those moments to create the momentum they need for a better second half.
"I think each individual guy throughout this roster, if you ask them how they felt their year was going, they'd tell you that they have a lot to go forward with and improve on," Kotsay said. "Building innings … taking walks, being fundamentally sound if we need to execute -- I think that's our focus here, going forward.
"I think these guys have dug their feet in, and they're committed to obviously their approaches and the process, which we talk a lot about, and hopefully that ends up paying off."