by Luke Ramundo
If there was a time for the Tampa Bay Rays to start hitting home runs, The AL Wild Card game against the Oakland Athletics was the perfect time. In Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in front of a crowd of over 50,000, the Rays hit four home runs, with two coming from leadoff hitter and first baseman, Yandy Diaz, who had not played in a game since July.
The initial home run came in the top of the first inning, where Diaz was able to connect on a 3-1 pitch and drive it over the right field fence. The second came in the top of the third where Diaz hit a 2-2 pitch over the right field fence again, which put the Rays up 4-0.
The two other home runs were hit by right fielder, Avisail Garcia, and designated hitter, Tommy Pham. Diaz said after the game, according to SB Nation, “It was me trying to get to the ball faster, and that would create more power.”
Starting pitcher, Charlie Morton, had a solid outing with only giving up one run in five innings along with four strikeouts. While Morton was a bit wild in the beginning, he eventually settled in and was able to work out of some jams.
The bullpen played solid as reliever, Nick Anderson, had four strikeouts while only giving up one hit and zero walks. Other relief pitchers, Diego Castillo and Emilio Pagan, were able to keep the Athletics’ offense at bay.
“If we can provide enough offense to get ahead in the game and hand over the game to our bullpen, we have a shot… We rely on our pitching,” said Rays third baseman, Matt Duffy, in a postgame interview. “That’s our strength of our team. They’re going to carry us most days,” (The New York Times).
It is true that the Rays pitching has been the clear strength of this team this entire year. Tampa Bay’s pitching only allowed a 3.65 ERA this year which was second to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Rays identity has always included great pitching and defense.
The Oakland Athletics underperformed immensely. Coming into the game with a 97-65 regular-season record along with home field advantage, the A’s wanted to right the wrong from last year’s wild card loss to the New York Yankees.
The A’s pitching was hammered from the start despite being solid against the home run this year. Their bats also could not find the pop when runners were on base. The Rays pitching worked its way out of jams and prevented the Athletics from making a run. The Athletics head into an offseason of uncertainty with a number of pending free agents.
Tampa Bay, however, will continue its magical season by advancing to the American League Divisional Series against the powerhouse Houston Astros who boast the league’s best record (107-55). The Rays will look to use their stellar rotation and bullpen to cool down the Astros’ high-flying offense with stars like George Springer, Alex Bregman, and Jose Altuve.
While Tampa Bay may be a significant underdog, they have already impressed so many critics this year by winning 96 games with the lowest payroll in baseball at $55 million. Starting pitcher, Tyler Glasnow, who just came back in September, will take the mound for the Rays in game one at 2 p.m. at Minute Maid Park.
It will be a best three out of five series where the first team to three wins will advance to the American League Championship and play the winner of the Yankees vs Twins series. Being a wild card team, the Rays will not have home field advantage regardless of who they play in the American League.
Luke Ramundo can be reached at email@example.com