Who bats their first baseman leadoff?
The Tampa Bay Rays did Wednesday night, and largely because of it, they’ll get at least three more chances to do it this postseason.
Yandy Diaz hit two home runs, one on Sean Manaea’s fifth pitch of the game, as the Rays overpowered the host Oakland Athletics 5-1 in the American League wild-card game.
By hitting four homers to win the single-elimination affair, the Rays advance to a best-of-five AL Division Series against the AL West champion Astros. Game 1 is Friday in Houston.
The wild-card loss was the second straight for the A’s, who dropped their ninth straight winner-take-all playoff game dating to 1973. Oakland lost 7-2 to the New York Yankees in last year’s AL wild-card game.
Diaz, who returned Sunday from a two-month layoff caused by a fractured left foot, worked Manaea to a 3-1 count as the game’s first batter before driving a fastball over the wall in right field.
After the A’s left the bases loaded against Rays starter Charlie Morton (1-0) in the bottom of the first, Avisail Garcia followed a second-inning infield single by Matt Duffy with a two-run homer, increasing the Tampa Bay advantage to 3-0.
Diaz made it 4-0 when he belted a carbon-copy homer to right off Manaea leading off the third, ending the Oakland left-hander’s night.
“I’m probably the happiest guy on the team right now,” Diaz said on the field immediately after the win. “I was just trying to get good pitches to hit, and luckily they went out.”
With homers in each of his first two postseason plate appearances, Diaz became just the fourth player to accomplish that feat.
The two-homer game was his second of the year. He also went deep twice against the Yankees in May.
Manaea (0-1) was charged with four runs on four hits in two-plus innings. He struck out five and did not issue a walk.
“It looked to me like same pitch three times,” A’s manager Bob Melvin told reporters afterward. “To get four hits off him and three of them are homers, you have to give them credit.”
The A’s used a three-base throwing error by Rays third baseman Michael Brosseau to score their only run in the last of the third. After Marcus Semien reached third on the miscue, Ramon Laureano drove him home with a sacrifice fly.
Tommy Pham completed the Tampa Bay scoring with a homer off Yusmeiro Petit in the fifth.
Morton worked through a high pitch count to go five innings, allowing just one unearned run on five hits. He walked three and struck out four. The veteran threw 94 pitches.
“They were putting pressure on me all night,” Morton told ESPN during an in-game interview. “They never really had that one big moment. A lot of that is luck. Sometimes the ball will find a hole; tonight it didn’t.”
Diego Castillo (two innings), Nick Anderson (1 1/3) and Emilio Pagan (two-thirds) blanked the A’s the rest of the way.
Diaz finished 3-for-4 and Pham 2-for-4 for the Rays, who also won their previous trip to the AL wild-card game, eliminating the Cleveland Indians 4-0 in 2013.
Jurickson Profar and Robbie Grossman had two hits each for the A’s, whose eight hits in the game were all singles.
The A’s outhit the Rays 8-7.
“They kinda beat us at our game,” Melvin said. “We’re usually a home-run-hitting team, and we couldn’t do much. And they hit the ball out of our ballpark, which at night can be tough to do.”
—Field Level Media