OAKLAND -- Sean Manaea's run of dominance over the past month that helped the A’s extend their season into October came to a screeching halt in Wednesday night’s 5-1 loss to the Rays in the American League Wild Card Game at the Coliseum.
After allowing a total of four runs over his five starts since returning from left shoulder surgery, Manaea allowed that same amount over just two-plus innings against Tampa Bay, surrendering a career-high three home runs. It was a sour end to what had been an inspiring year that saw him return from a rigorous rehab process following surgery to repair a torn labrum.
The pressures involved in such a high-stakes game were embraced by Manaea following his announcement as Oakland’s starter on Tuesday afternoon. The left-hander set out to prove the right decision was made to hand him the ball after the A’s front office and manager Bob Melvin heavily deliberated between Manaea and Mike Fiers to determine who should get the start. But the adversity was far too great for Manaea to overcome, immediately fighting an uphill battle as Rays first baseman Yandy Díaz took him deep for a home run leading off the game.
“It stings. This one sucks. I don’t even know how to describe it,” Manaea said. “This is a tough loss and it’s solely on me. I had one job and I did really poorly. I let everyone down. It sucks, but hopefully I can learn from this and move on.”
When a decision so hotly debated as the Manaea-Fiers one goes awry, the second-guessing is sure to come. Fiers certainly had the credentials to draw the start, compiling the fifth-lowest ERA (3.21) among AL starters since April 26 and going 9-1 with a 2.54 ERA in 16 starts at the Oakland Coliseum this season. He also had success against the Rays, limiting them to three runs in 12 innings over two starts. But there were no players in the A’s clubhouse playing the “what-if” game, not even Fiers.
“You could always look back and say you could have done something different,” Fiers said. “But Manaea has pitched very well for us. Everyone was behind him and excited he was pitching.”
More frustrating for the A’s was the lack of production on offense when it mattered most. Capping off their six-game road trip to end the regular season by going 2-for-45 with runners in scoring position, those struggles carried over Wednesday as Oakland went 0-for-4 in those situations.
A’s third baseman Matt Chapman scoffs at the notion that their season is over because of Manaea.
“I’d have Sean go run back out there and do it all over again,” Chapman said. “It’s nobody’s fault. We needed to play better as a team. We gotta learn from it and grow.”
Despite it being by far his worst outing of the year, not much was different from Manaea. He still displayed supreme control of his fastball, not issuing a walk as he constantly attacked hitters. What led to Manaea's downfall was the inability to throw his changeup, leading to him finding himself behind in the count often. His first two homers allowed came when he was behind in the count. The third, which was Díaz’s second homer of the night, came on a 2-2 count.
“I just left mistake pitches out over the plate,” Manaea said. “Really just three pitches that they got me.”
“He gives up four hits, three of them are homers, doesn't walk anybody, strikes out five,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “It looked to me like the same pitch three times. Four hits off him, three are homers. You've got to give them some credit. It's kind of our game, they kind of beat us with our game. We're normally a home run-hitting team and we couldn't do much, and they hit the ball out of our ballpark, which can be tough to do here.”