By Morris Phillips
OAKLAND — Seven A’s homered at least 20 times this season. Manager Bob Melvin’s wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel in advance of the win-or-swim Wild Card game: he penciled all seven into his lineup on Wednesday against the Rays.
What happened next wasn’t what anyone in Oakland was expecting. One of the most prolific power hitting teams in the history of Major League baseball whiffed. The A’s hit 257 home runs this season, 315 doubles or triples, and none of that carried over to the disappointing Wild Card loss, 5-1 to the Rays.
The A’s managed just eight singles across nine innings, and even those weren’t struck with much authority. Charlie Morton and three relievers shut the A’s down without allowing even as much as rallying moment.
The Rays? They smashed four home runs in the first five innings, including the first courtesy of Yandy Diaz on the game’s fifth pitch. In the season of the home run, the Rays got the directive. What happened to the A’s?
“We couldn’t string anything together tonight,” Melvin said. “They kind of beat us with our game. We’re normally a home run-hitting team,”
“Get into this Wild Card game and a lot of times it comes down to pitching and timely hitting. They got us on the run early in the game, and we really couldn’t answer.”
Home runs don’t always decide baseball games, and they haven’t traditionally played a major factor in postseason games, but times are changing. The 2017 World Series between the Astros and Dodgers was supercharged, and this postseason could be similarly built. But if one club belts four, and the other swings and misses, that’s always been decisive, playoff game or not.
Playing at home normally provides an advantage as well. The Oakland crowd, better than 54,000, setting a new Wild Card attendance record, did their part. But the A’s couldn’t follow suit, another anomaly given their 52-29 record at the Coliseum this season.
Starting Sean Manaea seemed like a smart move as well. Tampa Bay didn’t hit left-handed pitching that well this season, ranking in the lower third in most categories. But it mattered little. Diaz, fresh off the disabled list, and seeing his first big league game action since July 22, made Rays manager Kevin Cash seem like a genius. The hard swinging Diaz homered opposite field in each of his first two at-bats.
Manaea lasted just two plus innings, but he wasn’t awful. The A’s ace struck out five, didn’t walk any, and allowed just four hits. But three of those four left the park.
“I just was trying to get good pitches to hit and luckily they went out,” Diaz said.
And one more home run related note: The A’s hit the fourth most home runs among AL clubs this season, but those 257 home runs ranks them eight best all-time as home run records fell like confetti in 2019.
And the Rays? The were a bit of an afterthought in terms of power hitting with 217 home runs, 15 fewer than the American League average this season. But the Rays were number one by allowing 181 homers, the fewest in all of baseball.