Rays homer their way to Wild Card title

by Gary Shelton on October 3, 2019 · 0 comments

in general

Diaz hit two home runs for the Rays./TIM WIRT

Thursday, 4 a.m.

Perhaps you thought the A's power would get them. After all, the subject of the Oakland muscle was a top of conversation for days. Tampa Bay was not supposed to be able to keep up.

But they did.

Perhaps you thought the distance might wear on them. After all, the Rays had to travel all the way from Canada to America's West Coast. And the A's are a very good team at home.

But the Rays seem to like the road.

Perhaps you thought the crowd would do in the Rays. After all, they're used to playing in front of blue seats, and a stadium full of A's crazies (54,005) showed up to greet the Rays Sunday.

But the Rays seemed to enjoy the atmosphere.

As it turns out, nothing could deter the Tampa Bay Rays, who powered themselves to the Wild Card Championship with a 5-1 beatdown of the Oakland A's. It earned the Rays the right to advance to play against the Houston Astros.

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Morton kept working his way out of trouble./JEFFREY S. KING

The Rays continued their amazing story Wednesday night. This time, the hero-you-wouldn't-expect was Yandy Diaz, the first baseman who had played in exactly one game since July 22. Diaz hit two home runs -- including one to start off the game -- to lead the Rays.

Avi Garcia and Tommy Pham also hit home runs.

"I don't know if we expected that type of performance," said Rays' manager Kevin Cash. "He's made us look a lot smarter than we really are by getting him back in the lineup. He was a presence, especially against left-handed pitching. He got us off to a good start with the home run."

Diaz was pressed into action because the A's started left-hander Sean Manaea. That forced Cash to bench Ji-Man Choi to start right-hander Diaz. It paid off as Diaz had three hits.

"I've been out for two months, but I tried to come out and play as hard as I can," Diaz said. "And luckily the results came in right. When I looked to the bench and saw the guys super excited, it pumped me up to go around the bases. I thought we had to carry that momentum throughout the game."

Said teammate Kevin Kiermaier: "Yandy is just one of those guys -- he just wakes up out of bed and rakes. Everyone knows him for his muscles and what he can do in the weight room and stuff like that, but the guy finds the barrel so much throughout this whole season, and anytime we're able to have him available, we're happy."

It left Cash answering questions about why the Rays pursued Diaz to begin with. After all, he was a player with just one major-league home run.

" I remember those discussions that took place at the Winter Meetings," Cash said. "We gave up a good player in Jake Bauers, a young player. I think the thing that stood out the most with Yandy is how hard he hit the baseball. In the air, on the ground, he hits it as hard as anybody in baseball, and he does it at a consistent clip. We have not said one thing to him about hitting the ball in the air, any of that. We took the approach of let him be, give him consistent reps. He hasn't had those because of the injury. But before the injury, he was getting consistent reps, and let the player figure it out a little bit.

Diaz seems to have it figured out. The rest of the Rays, too.

Charlie Morton started for Tampa Bay Wednesday night. He's been sharper, but he kept working his way out of trouble. He gave up only one unearned run -- on a three-base error by Mike Brosseau.

"When the first inning ended, I kind of said to myself, we are fortunate to have Charlie Morton on the mound," Cash said. "We get the 1-0 lead. A young pitcher in that situation, that environment, you just wonder how he's going to be able to handle that. But Charlie, been there, done that, his veteran, his experience, I think allowed that. And I would still say, I don't think Charlie was at his best today, but he certainly made his best pitches when they counted the most."

The Rays bullpen was even better. Diego Castillo, Nick Anderson and Emilio Pagan all threw shutout baseball to close it out.

Tampa Bay will be a distinct underdog against the Houston Astros, one of baseball's most complete teams.

"They have no holes," said catcher Travis d'Arnaud. "They can hit, they can run, they can play defense."

Said Diaz:  we've never been one of the favorites. We're always the underdogs. But we work hard and go out there and try to compete every day."

d'Arnaud had special praise for Morton: "He'll be the first to tell you that he didn't have his best stuff," d'Arnaud said. "But he showed me and the whole world what kind of heart and what kind of fight he has to go out there and battle and put up zeroes with not-his-best stuff."

The Rays will begin their playoff series Friday afternoon at 2:05 p.m. at Minute Maid Park. Tyler Glasnow will start for the Rays and Justin Verlander for the Astros.

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