On a night the Rays needed to flex their strength, lead off first baseman Yandy Diaz was the star of the show, starting with this:
Yandy Díaz is the first Rays player to hit a leadoff HR in a postseason game! pic.twitter.com/LADdueuiDh— ESPN (@espn) October 3, 2019
Diaz then benched Athletics starter Sean Manaea the second time he came to the plate, hitting yet another towering shot to right field.
"Not again!!"— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 3, 2019
Yandy Diaz is making life hard for A's fan
(via @Cut4) pic.twitter.com/TZu5TODI0J
The narrative for this game is easy: the Rays flipped the script on the Bashin’ Oakland A’s.
Sandwiched between the Yandy Diaz opposite field homers on offense was Avisail Garcia, who absolutely punished a baseball 115 mph off the bat in the second for a two-run blast, giving the Rays a three run lead that Diaz would extend to four.
It would be the hardest batted ball in the post-season since 2015, per the ESPN broadcast, and mercy if you haven’t seen it just watch:
115.2 MPH off the bat?— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) October 3, 2019
Holy Toledo!#StayHungry pic.twitter.com/IVnfkvbr43
That one came with a batflip to make you smile as well:
AVISAIL GARCIA BAT FLIP pic.twitter.com/lyesgzSn6S— ESPN (@espn) October 3, 2019
Tampa Bay was letting Manaea throw inside as much as he pleased, while attacking everything on the outer half of the plate. That approach paid off best for Diaz, and led to a quick hook on Manaea. Just 9 outs into the game, the A’s brought in Yosmeiro Petit, a right handed pitcher.
To be candid, I was surprised the A’s did not turn to another starter, but choosing the opposite hand to fight the right-handed hitting lineup was a solid move by Bob Melvin, who was just as intent as the Rays would be to play the bullpen matchup game.
Kevin Cash in turn brought Brandon Lowe to bat for Matt Duffy with two outs in the third with Tommy Pham on a stolen second base. Lowe grounded out and forced Brosseau over to defend third, where an error on a throw one pitch later allowed the A’s a baserunner to third, and then to score on a sac fly.
But as the A’s were begging to open the door, Tommy Pham was holding it shut, blasting a solo shot 418 feet to center field, a post-season franchise record tying fourth longball on the night!
A Phamtastic home run!#StayHungry pic.twitter.com/k6vlVaWqJk— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) October 3, 2019
That five run lead would be all the Rays needed to continue in the post-season as the pitching — Tampa Bay’s strength — remained relatively untouchable.
Charlie Morton was uncharacteristically wild in the first inning, seemingly unable to control his curveball and fastball, his two best pitches. The good news is that good pitchers adjust, and Morton was able to figure out his fastball — which was sitting 97 mph and touched 98, his hardest on the season — in time for the Rays to get out of jams in each of his five frames faced.
It was not Morton’s best self, and it was a somewhat inconsistent strikezone if we’re being honest, but CFM was doing his job against a threatening offense, and it’s hard to ask for more. Five innings, five hits, four strikeouts, three walks, and one run, zero earned.
The one run scored came as the result of an error by Mike Brosseau, who had just stepped over to third base when the ball was hit his way. He short armed it to Yandy Diaz and the one-hop baseball went under the first baseman’s glove. A sac fly would score the runner the next at bat.
But do not let an unearned run detract from Morton’s five innings of resilience.
After his appearance was done, Morton was interviewed by Buster Olney and the pitcher seemed dumfounded by his own success on the night, attributing the one-run allowed to things like mentality and luck, but the truth is that Morton was simply who he was: good. Base runners did not shake him, and he searched through the outing to find the best use of his 2- and 4-seamers to get through the majority of the game for his club.
CFM, Wicked 96mph Two Seamer. pic.twitter.com/W4HumlDo61— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 3, 2019
Diego Castillo pitched the sixth and seventh innings for the Rays, a bold decision by Kevin Cash who had a full roster of relief pitchers at his disposal. Castillo surprised by pumping a 100 mph low in the zone or throwing an 86 mph slider inside, confusing hitters and allowing only one hit, a blooper that could have easily been called an error as well.
Nick Anderson took over in the eighth, and allowed a leadoff single through where the second baseman would have been standing if the shift were not on — with no criticism from the ESPN broadcast! — but responded with audacious strikeouts, dropping a curveball in the top of the zone after feeding 98 mph in the zone, flirting above the zone until the hitters couldn’t resist, going down and away, then down and in.
All in all, Anderson struck out four batters after the single allowed, spanning across innings and leaving two outs remaining in the game for Rays closer (and former A’s pitcher) Emilio Pagan, who was his usual self. getting an easy ground out, and then following with a strikeout and his signature flex.
As if there was any other way to conclude this game.
Your Tampa Bay Rays have won the American League Wild Card!!!!
Bring on the Astros!