'At a loss for words': Blackburn earns 1st All-Star selection

July 11th, 2022

OAKLAND -- Paul Blackburn had a suspicious feeling when he walked inside the A’s clubhouse Sunday morning and noticed an unusual meeting listed on the daily schedule that was mandatory for all players. 

"It was listed as a travel meeting,” Blackburn said. “I can’t tell you we’ve had any travel meetings this year.” 

Turns out, Blackburn was right to have a premonition. This was no meeting to discuss the A’s upcoming road trip to Texas. It was a gathering by manager Mark Kotsay to officially announce Blackburn’s selection to the American League All-Star roster. The 28-year-old righty earned his first career All-Star nod in the midst of what has been a breakout campaign.

“It was awesome,” Blackburn said of receiving the news. “It just started with some very kind words. Just the adversity I’ve gone through, it was awesome having everyone in that room there for me.”

Blackburn's rise has been a bright spot in what has been a frustrating season for the A’s when it comes to results. His unlikely emergence as an ace in the sixth year of his career has almost had a storybook-like theme, after he struggled with a 5.74 ERA through his first five big league seasons and was designated for assignment in February 2021. So it’s only fitting that the next chapter will feature an appearance among the game’s elite for the July 19 All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium.

“I’m just kind of at a loss for words,” Blackburn said. “The journey that it’s taken to get here has been incredible. I don’t know. I’m really lost for words. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to play in a big league All-Star Game. It’s incredible.”

When he took over as manager in December, Kotsay introduced “The A’s Way,” a culture he was looking to establish by instilling what he calls a “grind and grit” mentality in his players. Nobody embodies that motto better than Blackburn.  

After impressing as a rookie in 2017, Blackburn was sidelined for most of the ‘18 season after requiring surgery for a broken forearm on a comebacker against the Orioles. The following years brought a massive struggle as he searched for ways to regain that rookie promise to no avail. 

“For Paul, the journey to get to an All-Star Game is probably unlike any other All-Star that’s going to be on that [team] this year,” Kotsay said. “He’s dealt with a lot of adversity throughout his career. He’s had to have the right mindset to battle back. The word I used for him is grit. The determination and perseverance that it’s taken to continue his path and believe in it. He should feel really rewarded.”

Blackburn is certainly deserving of the honor. He entered Sunday 6-4 with a 3.36 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 17 starts, holding opponents to a .246 batting average, which ranks 15th-lowest among qualified AL starters. He's also had a penchant for consistently putting up zeroes, with his six scoreless outings the most of any AL starting pitchers so far this season. 

The standout stat for Blackburn this year has been his 1.28 ERA on the road, which is lowest among all Major League starting pitchers. Yes, even lower than stars like Justin Verlander and Shohei Ohtani, two players he singled out as ones he looks forward to meeting and picking their brains on pitching when sharing the same clubhouse in Los Angeles. 

“I’m excited to be around those guys and talk to Ohtani and Verlander,” Blackburn said. “Talk to guys like that and see what they’ve done to set themselves up for a very successful career. Just being around guys that have played this game for a long time and hear what they have to say about what’s kept them around as long as they can.”

For as high of a point this is in Blackburn’s career, though, he doesn’t want this to be the end of his story. From here, there’s more he is aiming to accomplish, including a strong finish to the season to prove to doubters that his surprise success in the first half was no fluke. 

“It’s a great achievement,” Blackburn said. “I want to push through the finish line. I want to push through the end of September. I want to play in October one day. But just being able to have that first-half accomplishment, it’s definitely a proud feeling for myself.”