Manaea's arm, Brown's walk-off HR beat Rays

May 8th, 2021

OAKLAND -- Whenever faces the Rays, the 2019 American Wild Card Game is always in the back of his mind. The loss he took in the pivotal one-game playoff that October night at the Coliseum sunk the left-hander to the lowest point he’d experienced in his career to that point. But that painful memory also provides a reminder of how much he’s grown from that night.

With the Rays making their first trip back to the Coliseum since that Wild Card Game on Friday night, Manaea exacted some personal revenge. Perfect through six innings, the 29-year-old lefty retired retired 21 of his first 22 batters faced.

It wasn’t until the eighth when Manaea finally yielded his first hit. That came off the bat of Mike Brosseau -- Manaea’s high school teammate at Andrean High in Merrillville, Ind. -- who led off with a double. Manaea’s bid for his second career no-hitter was denied, as was his shot at earning the win after allowing a game-tying RBI single to Mike Zunino one batter later.

But his brilliant outing set the A’s up for a 2-1 victory on 's walk-off homer with two outs in the ninth against lefty Jeffrey Springs.

“For me, that moment is always going to be with me,” Manaea said, recalling his feeling of dejection following the 2019 Wild Card Game. “In the moment, it sucked. But I’m glad I went through that and was able to get past it and grow. For these guys to come back in and for me have a successful outing against them, that’s huge. That’s a very good team.”

A’s manager Bob Melvin said he could sense something special brewing from Manaea right from the start. While the first inning is typically a time where a pitcher might not have his best command, Manaea coasted through it by throwing seven of 11 pitches for strikes.

He emphatically punctuated the frame with a fastball that Brandon Lowe swung through for strike three, his first of 10 punchouts on the night, matching his career-high and marking the fourth 10-strikeout performance of his career.

In his no-hitter against the Red Sox on April 21, 2018, Manaea also struck out 10 while walking two batters. Even though it was only 7 1/3 innings of one one-run ball on two hits and one walk this time around, not only did Melvin think the lefty’s stuff was as good as it was on that magical night three years ago, he said it was “maybe even a little better” on Friday night.

Manaea agreed.

“My stuff has evolved since then,” Manaea said. “I had a lot more conviction and mound presence tonight by just going at guys and trusting my stuff, knowing I can get these guys out.”

He didn't give up many hard-hit balls. The average exit velocity he allowed to Rays hitters on the night was 90.4 mph and just an 85.9 mph average on his sinker, which he used as the putaway pitch on five of his strikeouts. His other five punchouts were finished off by his changeup, which also generated seven whiffs -- the most on any of his three types of pitches thrown on the night.

“His changeup looked like the best pitch,” Brosseau said of facing Manaea. “It looked like he had a little more ride than usual on his heater, compared to the last outing we saw him. But the changeup was his go-to pitch. It had more depth and tailing action. He was pounding the zone. I can’t tell you how many first-pitch strikes we took. When he’s got that kind of command, it’s a tough guy to handle. He was on tonight.”

That it was Brosseau who came up with the first hit stung just a little bit more for Manaea. Once he got the ball back from the outfield, he glanced over at second base for a few seconds and shared a playful staredown with his old teammate and longtime friend, who ended up with some bragging rights.

“I gave him a little side-eye like, ‘Of course, it was you,’” Manaea said. “I have the utmost respect for him. At the end of the day, we got the win. That was just one little cool moment.”

On a night that marked the second anniversary of fellow A’s starter Mike Fiers throwing the second no-hitter of his career, Manaea fell just short of joining that historic club. He still earned a standing ovation as he walked off the mound with one out in the eighth, tipping his cap to the 5,058 fans at the Coliseum whose roars had grown louder and louder as each pristine inning went by.

He also continued what has been a dominant stretch. Over his last six starts, he’s 3-0 with a 2.23 ERA, lowering his overall ERA to a team-leading 3.07 on Friday.

Manaea’s consistency on the mound is one of many key factors leading to the A’s impressive start to the year. On Friday night, they joined the Red Sox as the first two clubs in the Majors to reach 20 wins, improving to 20-14 on the season.

“He’s been throwing it well all year,” Brown said. “He’s incredible. Every time he takes the mound, he just has that confident look to him. It’s just fun to watch him throw.”