AL Wild Card Recap: Diaz Steps Up, Rays Use the Longball to Dispatch the A’s 5-1

The Rays celebrate after defeating the A's in Oakland, 5-1, Photo by Darren Yamashita

The Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Oakland Athletics 5-1 in the AL Wild Card game Wednesday night. The Rays now advance to the Divisional Series where they will meet the World Series favorite Houston Astros. As for the Athletics, it’s another early playoff exit for this team, after losing in the Wild Card last year to the New York Yankees. The Rays will be looking to advance to the World Series for the first time since 2008.

The Athletics went with lefty Sean Manaea as their starter in this game. Previously, the A’s were not even sure Manaea would be able to help them around this time of year, as Manaea was coming off of major shoulder surgery. But in his five starts, he got this season, Manaea looked sharp. Manaea posted a 4-0 record, and a 1.21 E.R.A. That’s only four runs yielded in 29.2 innings pitched with 30 strikeouts. Last year, they went with reliever Liam Hendricks as the opener, and that did not work very well for them.

It was puzzling that Mike Fiers did not get the start, as he finished with a 15-4 record with an E.R.A below 4. As for their lineup, Oakland went with a lot of right-handed hitters, with only one left-handed hitter, and 2 switch-hitters. They should have included more left-handed hitters, considering Morton struggles more with lefties.

The Rays decided to start their all-star right-handed pitcher Charlie Morton. After being considered an average pitcher for most of his career, Morton has really turned his career around, with two all-star selections in the last two years. Morton earned his all-star selection this year, posting a 16-6 record with an astounding 3.05 E.R.A, and a career-high of 240 strikeouts. Last year’s Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell was also available for this game, giving the Rays a lot of weapons to choose from. The Rays starting lineup had a lot of right-handed hitters to counteract the Athletics starting a left-handed pitcher, with only two left-handed hitters in Austin Meadows and Kevin Kiermaier.

The game started with a bang, as Yandy Diaz led off the game with a home run, sending a high fastball over the wall in right field.

The A’s looked to respond in the bottom half of the inning, loading the bases for Jurickson Profar. Charlie Morton was able to get himself out of trouble, giving up no runs, and the A’s would strand all three runners on base. This would come back to bite Oakland, as it was their best chance to score runs all game.

The Rays came back to score more runs in the second inning, as Avisail Garcia hit a two-run homer off of Manaea, on yet another high fastball, blasting it 437 feet. Garcia’s blast elevated the Rays to a 3-0 lead

In the third, Yandy Diaz came up to the plate and hit another home run. It was nearly an exact replica of his first home run. Nearly the exact same pitch and Diaz hit it to nearly the exact same spot. After, that, Melvin had seen enough from his starter. Manaea lasted two innings, gave up four hits, allowed four runs, and struck out five on 46 pitches.

The Rays would then have Brandon Lowe pinch hit for Matt Duffy against reliever Yusmeiro Petit. The result of this was that Lowe would move to second base, and Mike Brosseau would take over at third. The ball would immediately find Brosseau at third and he short-armed a throw to first. The error turned a casual ground out from Marcus Semien into a runner on third. Ramon Laureano would then hit him in with a sacrifice fly, making it a 4-1 game.

The bats then went quiet for a bit, until Tommy Pham would homer off of Petit. It was a low and away cutter, and Pham sent it to dead center. It wasn’t a bad pitch at all from Petit, just a fantastic piece of hitting from Pham, one of the few Rays coming into this game with playoff experience.

After that, the bullpens from both sides were lights out. For the A’s, Jake Diekman pitched 0.1 innings, getting the only batter he faced. Jesus Lozardo, who was the #31 overall prospect entering this season, really impressed me pitching three innings, giving up one hit, walking two and striking out four. Liam Hendricks would then breeze through the 9th inning.

However, for how good the A’s bullpen was, the Rays’ staff was even better. Charlie Morton had a great start, going five innings, giving up five hits, one run allowed, walked three and struck out four. Diego Castillo would then take the next two innings. He gave up two hits, no runs, struck out three, and his fastball even touched 100 MPH at one point. Nick Anderson then took the hill. He went 1.1 innings, gave up only one hit, and struck out four, every batter he faced. Emilio Pagan then proceeded to get the last two outs with no problems.

In review, Oakland had their chances. They stranded a lot of runners on base, and hit into two crucial double plays, squashing any chance of building momentum. If the Rays continue to pitch like this, and can consistently hit home runs as they did, they can upset anybody. That is much easier said than done against the World Series favorite Houston Astros.