BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
For the second year in a row, the A’s dreams of postseason glory died a sudden painful death, falling to the Tampa Bay Rays 5-1 Wednesday night at the Coliseum in the AL Wild Card game.
Tampa Bay’s Yandy Diaz ripped a leadoff home run against A’s starter Sean Manaea, his first of two in the game, and Oakland was never able to recover.
For A’s fans it was eerily similar to last years Wild Card game in Yankee Stadium, when Aaron Judge, the second batter of the game, blasted a two-run homer in the bottom of the first off of Liam Hendriks, launching an off-season of second guessing about using an “opener” to start a playoff game as New York raced out to a 6-0 lead before Oakland showed any signs of life on the way to a 7-2 loss.
But this year it was supposed to be different. The A’s won 97 games in the regular season for the second year in a row, and playoff inexperience was no longer a legitimate excuse. They also hit a franchise record 257 home runs during the season, tied for the eighth most in Major League history, but their offense was no where to be found against Rays starter Charlie Morton or a trio of relievers.
Manaea returned to the mound in September from Tommy John surgery and was dominant, fashioning a 4-0 record with a minuscule 1.21 ERA, leading A’s Manager Bob Melvin to give him the ball to start an elimination game ahead of Mike Fiers, who was Oakland’s unquestioned ace after going 15-4 in the regular season.
With a Wild Card record crowd of 54,005 looking on, Diaz immediately silenced the partisan Oakland crowd with a 372 foot blast to deep right center, and Avisail Garcia ripped and even longer two-run homer 426 feet to deep center an inning later. Diaz would go yard again leading off the third, sending Manaea to the showers while extending the Rays lead to 4-0.
Meanwhile, Morton was pitching like the ace he was while going 16-6 in the regular season. Only two years removed from leading Houston to a World Series championship with a dominating Game 7 performance at Dodger Stadium, he also won Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS against the Yankees, making him the first pitcher to record wins in winner-take-all games in Major League history. He never allowed the A’s bats to awaken, tossing five innings while only allowing an unearned run on five hits. Oakland scored their only run in the third without a hit, capitalizing on Marcus Semien’s hustle in going from first to third on Mike Brosseau’s throwing error before coming in to score on a Ramon Laureano sacrifice fly.
Yusmeiro Petit came on to pitch masterfully in relief of Manaea, shutting down the Rays for 2.2 innings before getting touched up for a solo shot by Tommy Pham in the fifth for Tampa’s fourth home run of the game to establish the games final margin. Jesús Luzardo, in just his seventh big league game, came on in the sixth and pitched three scoreless innings for Oakland.
“It’s frustrating,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s very sudden. Usually you have a series to kind of have a tomorrow and come back and win a game. And we’ve been really good this year about having a tough game and coming back and responding.”
“There’s no responding in a game like this. It’s a little out of the norm for baseball. Both teams battled to get to this point and knew it would be one and out. They just played better than we did.”
So, after advancing to the post-season for the fifth time in the past eight seasons and going a Major League best 60-29 (.674) since June 17, the A’s continue to look for their first series win since 2006 after another deflating loss in an elimination game.
The loss extended the A’s futility in winner-take-all playoff games. They’ve now lost nine consecutive games when a win would have advanced them to the next round, or won a series, the longest such streak in Major League history. The last time Oakland won an elimination game was Game 7 of the 1973 World Series. It also dropped their record to 0-3 in Wild Card games.