Coming off a night that saw a thrilling finish to the NL Wild-Card Game, baseball fans experienced quite a different story on Wednesday night.
A single-elimination clash between the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics captured playoff baseball in 2019 perfectly.
Tampa Bay stole the show early with monster home runs to open the game and remove Oakland’s home-field advantage. Meanwhile, the Athletics repeatedly whiffed on their opportunities. When skipper Bob Melvin made the same catastrophic mistakes all night, the Rays took advantage to earn their spot in the ALDS.
Here are the winners and losers from Tampa Bay’s 5-1 wild-card win over Oakland.
Winner: Yandy Diaz
Tampa Bay activated Diaz off the injured list just days before the postseason with hopes he could provide some power. He surpassed its grandest expectations with an incredible two-homer game.
Diaz opened the game with a massive, opposite-field blast to help quiet a raucous crowd. He delivered an encore in his next at-bat with another solo blast to become the first player in a decade to hit two opposite-field shots in a postseason game. While his defense at first base is a glaring problem, the bat easily made up for it.
Loser: Sean Manaea
Oakland made the right decision to have its best pitcher start on Wednesday. Unfortunately for the Athletics, Manaea made the same history as Max Scherzer in his wild-card start.
Manaea never allowed a home run in the first and second inning in his previous 85 starts until he took the mound in the single-elimination game. The 27-year-old left his fastball up and Tampa Bay took advantage with three home runs. Manaea will remain a fixture in Oakland’s rotation for years to come, but his stuff and command must improve.
Winner: Avisail Garcia
Nearly a year after the Chicago White Sox wouldn’t even offer Garcia a contract, he delivered an eye-popping blast to help push the Rays to the ALDS.
Garcia stepped to the plate with a one-run advantage and promptly sent a baseball into space. He rocketed it out with a 115 mph exit velocity to give the Rays a three-run lead and ultimately the only runs they would need. Tampa Bay gave him a chance to play this season with health on his side and he’s crushed it ever since.
Loser: Jurickson Profar
Oakland found itself in perfect position to respond to Diaz’s early blast and put early pressure on Charlie Morton. The Athletics loaded the bases and worked Morton’s pitch count to 27 with Profar stepping into the plate with a dream opportunity.
Morton gave him an opportunity for a free, though painful, RBI with a pitch way inside. Instead, Profar showed insane reflexes to avoid it. He then hit an easy fly out to strand three runners in scoring position and allowed Morton to escape with a shutdown inning. Opportunities can’t be wasted in October and Profar did that time after time.
Winner: Tommy Pham
The Rays excel at acquiring undervalued hitters and unlocking their best form. We saw it all season and Wednesday’s wild-card win proved it even more with Pham’s contributions.
Pham made an impact in a variety of ways. He immediately hit a single off Yusmeiro Petit then got the perfect jump to steal second. When Melvin kept Petit in the game to face Pham, he unleashed a solo blast to give Tampa Bay a four-run lead and drive a dagger into the Athletics.
Loser: Matt Olson
For everything that went right for Olson during his phenomenal 2019 season, it all went wrong once the postseason intensity hit. He did an excellent job working the count against Morton in the first inning, but he struck out to strand two runners on. Olson got a shot at redemption in the fifth inning with a runner on base and he grounded into an inning-ending double play. After posting a .965 OPS with runners on in the regular season, Olson fell short when it mattered in an elimination game.
Winner: Jesus Luzardo
Oakland’s fans will be dealing with the pain of another postseason heartbreak. Fortunately, Luzardo’s postseason debut should give them a reason to be hopeful for the future.
The 22-year-old showed everything in three shutout innings that will make him the ace of this rotation. He brought the heat with his fastball, frustrated Tampa Bay’s lineup with his slider and mixed in his curveball and changeup. He has all the tools to be a front-line starter in 2020 and this experience will only help him reach his ceiling.
Loser: Bob Melvin
Every move a manager makes in an elimination game is critical because one mistake can end a season. Melvin’s baffling decision to leave Manaea in for the third inning proved costly and it should never have happened.
It became clear to everyone watching in the second inning that Manaea’s fastballs served as batting practice. Melvin’s obliviousness to it cost Oakland a run and he burned his team again by leaving Petit in too long and that led to another run. Great managers don’t make the same mistake twice in October. Melvin keeps repeating his disastrous gaffes and it should be cause for significant concern in Oakland.