The Tampa Bay Rays used a strong start to go into RingCentral Coliseum and pull out a 5-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics in the 2019 American League Wild Card Game on Wednesday night.
Tampa Bay first baseman Yandy Diaz provided his team with an early 1-0 lead by becoming the first player in franchise history to lead off a postseason game with a home run. He didn't stop there, though, as he added another solo shot in the top of the third.
It marks the Rays' first trip to the American League Division Series since 2013, which was also their most recent playoff appearance. They have reached the AL Championship Series just once in franchise history, back in 2008 when they made a run to the World Series.
1B Yandy Diaz: 3-for-4, two home runs, two RBI
RF Avisail Garcia: 1-for-4, one home run, two RBI
DH Tommy Pham: 2-for-4, one home run, one RBI
SP Charlie Morton: 5.0 innings, five hits, one run (zero earned), three walks and four strikeouts
RP Nick Anderson: 1.1 innings, one hit, zero runs, zero walks and four strikeouts
SP Sean Manaea: 2.0 innings, four hits (three home runs), four runs, zero walks and five strikeouts
RP Yusmeiro Petit: 2.2 innings, two hits (one home run), one run, zero walks and two strikeouts
RP Jesus Luzardo: 3.0 innings, one hit, zero runs, two walks and four strikeouts
3B Matt Chapman: 1-for-3, one walk
Long Balls Power Rays to Victory
Oddly enough, the Rays still managed to get the best of the spacious RingCentral Coliseum.
Just five pitches into the game, Diaz snuck one over the right-field wall:
Avisail Garcia gave Tampa Bay some breathing room by playing add-on with a two-run blast to center in the second:
One inning later, Diaz, who entered the 2019 season with just one home run in 88 MLB games, went opposite field once again...to nearly the identical spot as his first-inning shot:
According to MLB Stats, Diaz became just the fifth Rays player to have a multi-homer game during the postseason and the first to do so in a winner-take-all contest. Not bad for someone who had played in just one big-league game since July 22.
On the other side, Manaea, who made just five starts during the regular season after undergoing shoulder surgery in September 2018, must have been wondering what was going on. While facing 109 batters in 29.2 innings last month, he allowed just three home runs. He matched that total through the first 10 batters on Wednesday night:
And with that, his night came to an early end. But that didn't stop the Rays' power surge:
For a team that averaged just 1.3 dingers over the course of a 162-game season, a four-homer game could not have come at a better time.
Big-Game Morton Comes Up Clutch Again
The Rays have 2018 AL Cy Young award winner Blake Snell on their roster, but facing a win-or-go-home game on the road, manager Kevin Cash opted to go with someone with experience: Charlie Morton.
During his time with the Houston Astros, Morton made a pair of appearances in winner-take-all postseason games. He threw five shutout innings against the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS, and he later closed out Game 7 of the 2017 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers with four innings of two-hit, one-run baseball. He was the winning pitcher both times.
The 35-year-old right-hander was wearing a different uniform on Wednesday, but he was still more than up for the task.
Morton, who went 16-6 with a 3.05 ERA during his first season in Tampa Bay, was far from dominant. But the two-time All-Star was able to make pitches when he needed to. He wiggled off the hook in both the first and the fourth innings.
The only run he surrendered came by way of a three-base error in the third.
Having to pitch out of trouble on multiple occasions took its toll on Morton's pitch count (94 on the night) and forced him out of the game after five innings. By that point, though, he had done enough to put his team in position to advance.
Tampa Bay will take on the AL West champion Houston Astros in the AL Division Series. Games 1 and 2 will be played in Houston on Friday and Saturday, respectively, with Game 3 to follow in St. Petersburg on Monday.