OAKLAND -- Having gone through the heartbreak of an early exit in last year’s American League Wild Card Game, the A’s had plenty of reason to believe things would be different this time around.
Not only did the A’s have the year of experience to learn from, but they also had a raucous crowd break the record for the highest-attended Wild Card Game in MLB history as 54,005 fans packed the Coliseum to provide support for a club in search of its first postseason victory since 2013. But once the game got underway Wednesday night, it didn’t take long for the A’s to find themselves in an all-too-familiar bad spot.
Sean Manaea served up a leadoff home run to Yandy Díaz. It was the first of a career-high three homers allowed by Manaea as he only recorded six outs, digging the A’s in a hole that was much too deep for them to climb out of against Rays ace Charlie Morton. The end result was a 5-1 loss, marking Oakland’s exit from the postseason in the Wild Card Game for a second consecutive season.
“It’s disappointing,” A’s shortstop Marcus Semien said. “I think we got beat at our own game. They hit the long ball and threw good bullpen arms. A tough night to play from behind. Just watching the way they play, that’s what we did to teams a lot this year.”
After taking a few days to determine who should get the start between Manaea and Mike Fiers with the season on the line, the decision is sure to be scrutinized. This loss, however, does not directly fall on a bad pitching performance.
A potent A’s offense that set a franchise record with 257 home runs in the regular season struggled to get the big hit when it was needed most. Oakland was unable to capitalize on a golden opportunity to answer Díaz’s leadoff home run, stranding the bases loaded against Morton in the first. Despite outhitting the Rays, 8-7, the inability to score early set the tone for a night that saw the A’s go 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position and leave nine runners on base.
Even after Morton departed following his five innings of one-run ball, the A’s offensive struggles were only exasperated by Rays hard-throwing relievers Diego Castillo, Nick Anderson and Emilio Pagán, who combined to hold Oakland to just three hits over the game’s final four frames, while striking out eight.
“They have a lot of guys that throw really hard, and they’re all different in their own right, which makes it difficult with how quick they are to the plate,” A’s outfielder Mark Canha said. “Trying to have a plan for each guy, you’re just spinning your wheels. You just have to go back to your foundation and grind out at-bats. We just didn’t have enough grounders get through or base hits with baserunners on.”
Once Pagán struck out Semien to cap off the victory that secured the Rays a spot in the AL Division Series, most of the A’s quickly made their way to the clubhouse. Matt Chapman, however, remained on the top step of the dugout for a few minutes, gazing over at the dogpile of Rays players just in front of the Coliseum mound.
Chapman felt the same pain that each fan in the building felt. He hasn’t been around for the entirety of the A’s nine-game losing streak in winner-take-all postseason games, which is now the longest streak in Major League history, but he took great pride in trying to help this team become the one responsible for ending such a brutal stretch. That quest will have to wait at least another season.
“I feel bad for the fans,” Chapman said. “They came out and supported us. They were here early, and even when we were down, they were loud and trying to get us going. We wanted so badly to get some momentum going and give them something to cheer about. But it seemed like today we didn’t give them something to cheer about. I’m sorry to our fans that we let them down and we let each other down.”
The A’s will miss out on a chance to face the Astros, the club they set out to dethrone way back in Spring Training with a mission of winning the AL West. No doubt it’s a goal they will set for themselves again next year, perhaps more so just to avoid the one-game playoff that is the Wild Card Game, which the A’s have appeared in three times over the last six seasons, losing all three contests.
“What we need to do is win the division if we want to play a longer series. We’re in a tough division as it is,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “But proud of what they did this year. We just got beat one game. And everybody is pretty upset about it.”
The A’s had a glimpse of what a future rotation anchored by Luzardo could look like on Wednesday night, as the 22-year-old lefty was one of the few bright spots with four strikeouts and three scoreless innings of relief.
“We got a lot of guys in here that are going to help toward the future and be pivotal to our success,” Luzardo said. “Next year is going to be a big year for us.”
“Puk comes here and Murphy comes here and Luzardo comes here, and we have the Chapmans and the [Matt] Olsons and guys like that,” Melvin said. “We're going to get better. As good as this year was, we're going to get better next year with some of the young pitching arms that you see.”