Following a tense race to the end for Wild Card contention, the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics went head-to-head, and the Rays came out on top of the winner-take-all postseason match.
There were plenty of folks who were justified in feeling a little bit worried when they saw Yandy Diaz’s name in the leadoff spot for the Rays’ Wild Card roster on Wednesday afternoon. Diaz had, after all, only just returned from the injured list over the weekend, and there was a great deal of uncertainty as to whether or not he was ready to be thrown back into play so quickly.
Diaz silenced those concerns in the first inning of the Wild Card game when he knocked a textbook home run into the right field seats, giving the Rays the earliest of early leads. That initial home run put A’s starter Sean Manaea on rocky footing as the game progressed, and in spite of a sold out crowd of over 50,000 — the largest Wild Card crowd ever — Manaea wasn’t ever able to regain his confidence completely.
The first inning was equally difficult for Rays’ starter Charlie Morton, who confessed to ESPN’s Buster Olney in a mid-game interview that the noise from the crowd had surprised him, and getting his emotions in check was as much a part of getting his pitches back in line as anything mechanical.
Morton threw 32 pitches in the first inning, a season high for him, but after loading the bases he was able to pitch himself and his team out of a jam. It’s a story he would repeat frequently through his five innings of play.
In the top of the second, the Rays pulled further ahead with a two-run shot from Avisail Garcia, scoring himself and Matt Duffy. Then in the third, Diaz struck again, hitting another home run to almost the exact same position as the first.
It was also the end of the line for Manaea, as the Rays chased the A’s starter early in the game.
With a commanding lead in the top of the third, most of Morton’s early trouble with the curve seemed to be forgotten. Unfortunately, Mike Brosseau had a few moments in the game that weren’t so easy to wipe away.
Brosseau earned the unique distinction of being the first player in postseason history to play first, second, and third base in one postseason game. He started at second, then moved to third when Duffy was replaced by Brandon Lowe, then headed over to first when Yandy Diaz’s day ended. A throwing error in the bottom of the third inning resulted in Marcus Semien getting an unexpected triple, and he was shortly thereafter scored on a sacrifice fly from Ramon Laureano.
Brosseau also participated in a rather farcical three-player attempt to catch a ball behind first base that resulted in a base hit, but since no one scored on that, we won’t hold it against him.
The Laureano RBI was the A’s only run of the game.
In the top of the fifth, Tommy Pham hit a solo home run of his own, bringing the score to 5-1, with all the Rays runs coming on the long ball.
Both teams showed great bullpen quality, with the A’s young reliever Jesus Luzardo showing some impressive flash and touching the 100mph mark. Likewise, Rays reliever Diego Castillo hit triple digits himself over two scoreless innings.
It was a game played between equals, as two low-budget but high-talent teams fought to the end to keep playing October baseball. Ultimately, it was the Rays who proved to have the edge tonight, and will go on to face the Astros in the ALDS starting Friday.