Yandy Diaz clobbered a pair of solo home runs, Avisail Garcia and Tommy Pham also went deep to power the Rays to a 5-1 win over the Athletics in the American League Wild Card Game on Wednesday night. With the victory, Tampa Bay advances to face the Astros in the American League Division Series, which kicks off with Game 1 in Houston on Friday afternoon.
It took just five pitches for the Rays to silence a raucous Oakland crowd as a savvy decision to stack their lineup with right-handed sluggers versus Athletics’ lefty Sean Manaea paid immediate dividends when Diaz launched a leadoff homer to right-center field. He also drilled another opposite-field solo shot in the third inning to give the Rays a commanding four-run lead through two and a half frames and chase Manaea -- who coughed up a season-high four runs and three homers in the loss -- from the contest after throwing just 46 pitches across two-plus frames. A long-time Statcast darling, thanks to his ability to generate prodigious raw exit velocity readings, Diaz’ stunning ascension to October legend status seems especially unlikely considering he had appeared in just one big-league contest dating back to July 22. The 28-year-old infielder’s sudden power outburst ostensibly came out of nowhere after he missed nearly the entire second-half of the regular season due to a hairline fracture in his left foot. However, he had enjoyed a remarkable breakthrough campaign in his first year with the Rays prior to sustaining the injury, hitting .267/.340/.476 with a career-high 14 round-trippers across 347 plate appearances. To put his two-homer performance in context, he had accomplished the feat only once in 167 career regular-season games at the major-league level.
It wasn’t just Diaz who packed the over-the-fence pop for the cross-country road trip to the Bay Area. Right fielder Avisail Garcia -- a savvy, low-cost offseason pickup via free agency -- slugged a two-run homer to center field in the second inning and fellow outfielder Tommy Pham -- an electrifying power/speed combo threat acquired from the Cardinals at last year’s trade deadline -- tacked on an additional insurance run with a solo shot off Athletics reliever Yusmeiro Petit in the fifth inning. The Rays’ offensive explosion merits top billing from a narrative standpoint. However, they also received a stellar performance from 35-year-old veteran right-hander Charlie Morton, who allowed one run -- zero earned -- over five stellar frames. At that point, Rays manager Kevin Cash elected to turn a four-run lead over to his loaded bullpen. Hard-throwing righty Diego Castillo fired two scoreless frames before fastball/curveball specialist Nick Anderson, perhaps the most valuable trade deadline acquisition in the entire game, struck out the side in the eighth inning after a leadoff single by Matt Olson to put the Rays three outs away from advancing. The 29-year-old rookie right-hander, who posted a microscopic 2.11 ERA, 0.66 WHIP and an eye-popping 41/2 K/BB ratio over 21 1/3 frames after being acquired from the bottom-feeding Marlins in late July, whiffed Robbie Grossman to begin the ninth inning before passing the torch to Emilio Pagan to finish off the victory. The 28-year-old journeyman righty needed only six pitches to record the final two outs of the contest. Perhaps, it was only fitting that Athletics’ shortstop Marcus Semien, who had served as their main offensive catalyst during a remarkable 8.1 WAR campaign and was the only major leaguer to appear in all 162 regular-season games this year, that went down swinging to end the winner-take-all affair.
It’s yet another crushing postseason defeat for Oakland, whose lineup manufactured only one run on seven hits in this one. They’ve been eliminated in the American League Wild Card Game by AL East opponents in back-to-back years, after posting 97 regular-season victories during each of those campaigns. The lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal evening was the performance of rookie southpaw Jesus Luzardo, who just turned 22-year-old less than 48 hours earlier. The highly-touted prospect displayed a tantalizing mix of overpowering raw stuff and solid command, racking up four strikeouts over three scoreless frames in the losing effort. He’s going to be a good one, folks.
AL Quick Hits: Justin Verlander will start Game One of the ALDS on Friday. … Astros manager AJ Hinch told reporters Wednesday that he expects Carlos Correa (back) to play in Game 1. … Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Wednesday that Gio Urshela (ankle) is "good to go" for the ALDS. … Boone also noted that Edwin Encarnacion (oblique) has swung at full force the last two days. … Indians president Chris Antonetti said Wednesday that the club will exercise Corey Kluber's $17.5 million option for the 2020 campaign. … Antonetti also said that the team will not exercise its $16.5 million option on Jason Kipnis. … According to ESPN’s Pedro Gomez, the Royals' managerial search is “down to a very short list” that includes Mike Matheny and Pedro Grifol.
NL Quick Hits: Walker Buehler and Patrick Corbin will start for the Dodgers and Nationals, respectively, in Game 1 of the NLDS on Thursday. … Cardinals manager Mike Shildt confirmed Wednesday that Jack Flaherty will start Game 2 of the NLDS against the Braves on Friday. … He also said that Kolten Wong (hamstring) will be in the starting lineup and Dakota Hudson will be available out of the bullpen in Game 1. … Freddie Freeman (elbow) and Ronald Acuna (groin) are expected to be ready for Game 1. … Julio Teheran and Austin Riley will not be on the Braves’ NLDS roster. … Ender Inciarte is dealing with a right quad strain and is likely done for the rest of the season. … Jeff McNeil underwent surgery Wednesday to repair a fractured bone in his right wrist.