Paul Blackburn to take charter flight with Astros to MLB All-Star Game

All things considered, the A’s gotta be feeling pretty good about the current state of things heading into the All-Star break. After Sunday’s win – when the A’s scored four unanswered runs to take a 4-3 victory to secure a series win against the Houston Astros – Oakland has been playing .500 ball (6-6) over the past 12 games.

Sure, the team still sits in the cellar with the American League’s worst record at 32-61. But, hey, the Washington Nationals have prime Juan Soto and they’re 31-63, so it could be worse.

During Sunday’s radio broadcast of the first-half finale, color man Vince Cotroneo shared a cool nugget, saying the Astros offered Paul Blackburn a ride on their charter plane – since they have five All-Stars going to Dodger Stadium – and the A’s right-hander accepted. 

“We talked with Blackburn today and he will be riding out to Los Angeles courtesy of the Houston Astros,” Cotroneo said. “They’ve chartered a plane for their five All-Stars, manager Dusty Baker and their coaching staff – so they’ve got quite the contingent going – the PR staff going as well. Paul’s coming along. They’re gonna take him for a ride.” 

This story struck me in two different ways.

First of all, kudos to the Astros for the gesture.  They didn’t have to make the offer to their divisional foe.

Second of all, John Fisher is probably rubbing his hands (like Mr. Burns, I imagine) that he doesn’t have to pay for an extra flight from Houston to Los Angeles for Blackburn. A penny saved is a penny earned, right?

The All-Star break is a time where players let their guard down and like to have a good time in the midst of the grind, especially 90-plus games deep this season. Blackburn will be flying along with Astros All-Stars Justin Verlander, Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker and Framber Valdez.

Blackburn has been vocal about the opportunity to pick the brains of the greats during the All-Star festivities heading into Tuesday night’s game (lol why are they playing on a Tuesday?!) at Chavez Ravine. It might behoove Blackburn to sit next to his fellow right-hander Verlander on the plane and chat with him for that three-and-a-half hour flight.

“I’m excited to be around those guys and talk to (Shohei) Ohtani and Verlander,” Blackburn said last week, via’s Martín Gallegos. “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.”

Blackburn waned a bit before the break, especially his past two starts, as he’ll go to Dodger Stadium for the All-Star Game sporting a 3.62 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 1.20 WHIP and 77-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 97 innings through 18 first-half starts. As recently as a month ago, Blackburn toted a 2.26 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. 

His feet are touching the ground again, but the Antioch kid will be representing the green and gold at the Midsummer Classic. It’s quite the achievement considering he was DFA’d by the A’s in February 2021, cleared waivers (meaning all 29 other teams passed on him, too) and had to earn his way back on the squad as a non-roster invitee that spring. The past two years he’s evolved into a consistent and reliable starter. 

Blackburn would be on six days’ rest if he appeared in the All-Star Game, as he last pitched on Tuesday night, when he gave up five first-inning runs and issued four walks but went on to finish six innings.

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