Manaea's playoff redemption put on hold

October 7th, 2020

was ready for redemption. Instead, he ran into a hot Astros offense and now the Athletics find themselves with their backs to the wall in the American League Division Series after a 5-2 loss on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium.

Manaea wanted nothing more than to put a rough defeat to the Rays in last year’s AL Wild Card Game to rest with a sterling start in Game 2 of the ALDS. Coming off a strong September, the 28-year-old lefty seemed to be in the perfect spot.

But Manaea wound up allowing four runs on five hits -- including a pair of home runs by the suddenly surging Astros -- and saw his afternoon ended after 4 1/3 innings and 65 pitches.

Thus the bad taste from last October will linger longer for Manaea unless his team can rally from an 0-2 deficit and win three straight to give him another shot in the AL Championship Series, a feat only 10 teams have pulled off in 83 best-of-five postseason series in MLB history.

Manaea certainly was better than a year ago, when he lasted just two innings while giving up three homers and four runs in a 5-1 loss. But the end result left him with a similar feeling and evaluation of his performance.

“Same,” he said. “It’s my job to go out there and pitch, and I just didn’t do that today. It sucks, but I know this team is going to figure this thing out and turn it around.”

Manaea had beaten the Astros, 3-1, on Sept. 10 while allowing just one run in seven innings, and he’d gone 4-1 with a 2.65 ERA over his last six starts. After a 12-day layoff due to the postseason scheduling, he came out with increased velocity as his four-seam fastball -- which averaged 90.4 mph in the regular season, per Statcast -- was touching 94 mph, and he zipped through the first two innings on just 21 pitches.

But with the ball carrying exceedingly well in the 90-degree day games at Dodger Stadium, Manaea gave up a two-run homer to George Springer in the third and a solo shot to Martín Maldonado in the fifth to spoil what manager Bob Melvin felt could have been a much different outcome.

“I think it was just a few pitches,” Melvin said. “You go back over the course of the game and you can throw 80 or 90 pitches, and if three or four of them are really bad and they take advantage of them, it can skew how your stuff really was. Maybe the breaking ball to Springer might not have been his best pitch. I don’t think it was a strike, but I’m not sure. That’s what it came down to. A few long balls.”

Manaea said he hung his 3-2 pitch to Springer, who added a second homer in the fifth off Yusmeiro Petit to give the Astros a three-run lead. Springer’s first blast was a 410-footer with a 105.4 mph exit velocity, but Manaea was surprised Maldonado’s shot -- projected at 391 feet with a 99.2 mph exit velocity -- sailed over the fence in left-center.

“Just based off the sound, I didn’t think he got it,” Manaea said. “But obviously he did. That was surprising.”

As for the difficulty of pitching in the warm daytime conditions at Dodger Stadium, where the two teams have combined to club 11 home runs in the first two games?

“You have to make your pitches count,” he said. “I made mistake pitches, and if they put a good swing on it, they’re probably going to get a good result. It just makes it a little more difficult.”

Manaea’s short outing continued a troubling trend for the A’s, whose starters have now thrown 4 1/3 innings or fewer in six of Oakland’s seven postseason games over the past three years. They are 1-4 with a 6.94 ERA in those seven contests, including 1-2 with a 5.31 ERA in five games this year.