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Díaz (2 HRs) powers Rays into ALDS vs. Astros

García, Pham also go deep; Morton yields unearned run over five frames
@juanctoribio
October 4, 2019

OAKLAND -- When the Rays' team buses arrived at the Oakland Coliseum at around 11:30 a.m. PT Wednesday, they were greeted by a sea of A's fans that were eagerly awaiting their first home playoff game in six years. The A's were expecting more than 54,000 fans in a sold-out

OAKLAND -- When the Rays' team buses arrived at the Oakland Coliseum at around 11:30 a.m. PT Wednesday, they were greeted by a sea of A's fans that were eagerly awaiting their first home playoff game in six years.

The A's were expecting more than 54,000 fans in a sold-out Coliseum, and the atmosphere was going to be a new experience for a young Rays team with little playoff experience. Yandy Díaz, however, who got his first taste of the playoffs last season with the Indians, wasn't concerned about the anticipated crowd.

"Really?" Díaz asked before the game, when told there was going to be a sellout crowd. "There was people with guns when I played in Cuba."

Díaz, who returned from the injured list on Sunday and has played in just one game since July 22, quieted the crowd with a leadoff homer off Sean Manaea on the fifth pitch of the game, then homered again in his next at-bat, to carry the Rays to a 5-1 win over the A's in the American League Wild Card Game.

Box score

Date Result Highights
Oct. 2 TB 5, OAK 1 Watch

The Rays infielder became just the second player in AL Wild Card Game history to open a game with a home run, joining Brian Dozier, who did it in 2017 with the Twins. He also became just the fourth player in MLB history to hit a leadoff homer in a winner-take-all game, joining the Astros' Craig Biggio in 2004, the Cubs' Dexter Fowler in '16 and Dozier in '17.

'Next man up' philosophy suits Rays to a tee

"It was my dream to get to the playoffs," said Díaz, who defected from Cuba in 2013. "We just went out there with a positive mind. It didn't matter how many people came out to the game. Thankfully we were able to come out on top."

Tampa Bay moves on to the AL Division Series for the fifth time in franchise history and will take on the top-seeded Astros, beginning on Friday at 2:07 p.m. ET at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

Díaz's leadoff home run set the tone, and the rest of his teammates followed. Avisaíl García showed off his power in the second inning, launching a two-run home run off Manaea to give Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead. García's home run had an exit velocity of 115.2 mph, which is the hardest-hit home run by a Rays player since Statcast began tracking in 2015.

With the Coliseum crowd quiet, Díaz struck again in the third, hitting his second home run of the night on a 2-2 fastball from Manaea. Díaz joined Desmond Jennings, Evan Longoria, Kelly Shoppach and B.J. Upton as the fifth player in franchise history to hit two home runs in a playoff game. Díaz also became the first leadoff hitter to homer in each of his first two at-bats of a single postseason.

"That was absolutely incredible," said Rays infielder Brandon Lowe. "We're very happy to have him back out there. We [tease him] about his big muscles and everything, but he put together incredible at-bats and it's great to have him back."

Tommy Pham hit the fourth home run of the night, a solo shot off Yusmeiro Petit, to give the Rays a 5-1 lead in the fifth. The four home runs tied a franchise record for homers in a postseason game. Tampa Bay became the third team in MLB postseason history to record four home runs in a winner-take-all game, joining the 2004 Red Sox in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series and the 1956 Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series.

"Everyone said that Oakland was going to get the home runs and beat us," Pham said. "But we turned around and beat them, and we hit the home runs. So everyone was wrong."

The four home runs were enough for Charlie Morton, who struggled with his command early but was able to get critical outs in the game's biggest moments. Morton needed 32 pitches to get through the first inning, but he got Jurickson Profar to fly out with the bases loaded to end the threat.

"When the first inning ended, I told myself, 'Man, we are fortunate to have Charlie Morton on the mound,'" said Rays manager Kevin Cash. "A young pitcher in that environment and how loud it got, you just wonder how he's able to handle that. But Charlie, been there and done that, a veteran and his experience. I don't think Charlie was at his best, but he made his best pitches when we needed it the most."

Morton was able to work around a couple of other jams, and he allowed just one unearned run and struck out four over five innings. The right-hander became the first pitcher in MLB history to win three winner-take-all games.

Once Morton was out of the game, the Rays turned to Diego Castillo, Nick Anderson and Emilio Pagán to finish off the game. Tampa Bay pitching held the A's to two hard-hit balls in 22 balls in play. That is Oakland's lowest hard-hit rate in a game this season.

"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," said A's outfielder Mark Canha. "Trying to have a plan for each guy, you're just spinning your wheels."

"Those guys in the bullpen," Morton added, "they're special."

The Rays, who have developed a reputation for their clubhouse celebrations, partied their way onto the plane. Champagne bottles were popped and Kevin Kiermaier led a "Cha-Cha Slide" dance in the middle of the clubhouse. It was the second champagne shower in the past six days for Tampa Bay. They Rays will now try to do it again vs. the Astros, despite being considered the underdog, but that's how they prefer it.

"We're talented, man. We're freaking talented," said Rays infielder Matt Duffy. "Whatever you want to say about our odds or teams with more wins, once you get to this point, nobody cares how many wins you got."

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.