Tuesday night, the Brewers got on the board immediately with a walk and then a two-run shot in the NL Wild Card Game. Wednesday, the Rays got on the board even faster. Leadoff man Yandy Diaz -- who had only played in one game since July 22 -- took Athletics starter Sean Manaea deep to start the game:
This shot was the start of the Rays' homer- and pitching-fueled Astros, . The Rays haven't been this far since 2013 and they feel dangerous. Diaz is one of the many reasons. You see, he wasn't done., 5-1, moving them on to the ALDS against the
Next time up, Diaz homered again and it was nearly the exact same:
That bomb sent Manaea to the clubhouse, as Bob Melvin knew he needed to get someone else in the do-or-die game. Manaea also allowed a two-run shot to Avisail Garcia.
Note that the matchup was against a lefty. Diaz used to have trouble developing power against lefties, but this season has made an adjustment. He hit .289/.347/.378 against Southpaws last year and this season it was .311/.393/.583. He had never homered off a lefty before this season. This time around, he hit seven in 117 plate appearances and he did so twice in the Wild Card Game.
This turnaround is surely what gave Rays manager Kevin Cash the confidence to use Diaz at the top of his order despite having played in just one game in the season's final two months. It still has to be considered a gamble, but it's one that paid off.
"I don't know if we expected that type of performance," said Cash. "I said to [ESPN reporter] Buster [Olney], in the third inning, he's made us look a lot smarter than we really are by getting them back in the lineup. He was a presence, especially against left-handed pitching. Got us off to a good start with the home run."
Diaz becomes the 10th player in postseason history with with multiple home runs in a do-or-die game. The last one to pull it off was Didi Gregorius against the Indians in Game 5 of the 2017 ALDS (full list here via baseball-reference play index). Further, he becomes the fourth player ever to hit home runs in his first two postseason plate appearances with a team, following Gary Gaetti (1987), Evan Longoria (2008) and Kendrys Morales (2015).
On the other end of the spectrum here is the A's decision to go with Manaea. He had only five starts under his belt since returning from shoulder surgery in September. By no means am I second guessing the decision. He worked six innings in three of his five starts and got to seven once. He pitched to a 1.21 ERA and was clearly the A's best pitcher in the last month of the season. I suppose naysayers can say his last four starts came against the Tigers, Rangers (twice) and Mariners, but he looked great. The stuff was there, as was his endurance.
It just didn't work. In two-plus innings, Manaea coughed up four runs on four hits, thanks to three home runs.
What we saw in the early innings were two calculated gambles by smart teams with players who had missed a big chunk of the season and had recently returned to action. One of the gambles paid off in flying colors while directly causing the other gamble to come up a loser. That's just how things swing in the Wild Card Game sometimes.