Yandy Diaz hits 2 homers, Rays beat A’s 5-1 in AL wild-card game
OAKLAND — When he got to second base, Yandy Diaz stole a glance back toward the dugout and saw all his teammates going crazy. He gleefully kept running.
Out for two months, no matter.
Diaz slugged baseball’s lowest spender into a playoff matchup with mighty Houston, Charlie Morton silenced the powerful Athletics on the mound, and the Tampa Bay Rays beat Oakland at its own game with a 5-1 win in the AL wild-card round Wednesday night.
After playing only one game since late July because of a foot injury, Diaz hit a leadoff homer and went deep again in the third inning.
“When I looked to the bench and saw the guys super excited, it pumped me up to go around the bases,” Diaz said through a translator. “I thought we had to carry that momentum throughout the game.”
Avisail Garcia hit a two-run drive in the second, and Morton had all the support he needed as Tampa Bay advanced to face the AL West champion Astros in a best-of-five Division Series.
Game 1 is Friday at Houston, which won a major league-best 107 games this season.
“We have a tough road ahead of us, Houston’s a great team, but we played them well this year. It’s going to be a dogfight,” Tommy Pham said.
Pham homered in the fifth for the 96-win Rays, who had the smallest payroll in the majors at $66.4 million. And in a playoff meeting between creative, small-budget teams that make the most of limited resources, it was Tampa Bay that came out on top.
The Rays were unfazed by a towel-swirling Oakland crowd of 54,005 that established a wild-card record, having recently played at Dodger Stadium and on the road against the Yankees and Red Sox during the season’s final two weeks.
“I really feed off the energy of this situation. I that helped us,” Morton said. “It helped us to come in here and be in a high-pressure situation. The stadium was pretty rowdy, but I think that helped us focus.”
And when Marcus Semien struck out to end it, Tampa Bay players raced out of their dugout to celebrate and put on fresh playoff T-shirts and caps. Once in the clubhouse, the Rays drenched Morton with booze.
“It’s a beautiful thing having the lowest payroll in baseball and having the success we did,” center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said before the game. “It always feels good to stick it to the man any time you’re able to in this game, and that’s something to be very proud of.“
The A’s have lost nine straight winner-take-all games since 2000, going 1-15 with a chance to advance to the next postseason round. Their only win came in 2006 against the Twins before being swept in the AL Championship Series by the Tigers.
A year ago in the wild-card game, Oakland’s first time back in the playoffs since 2014, the A’s fell behind fast and lost 7-2 at Yankee Stadium. They won 97 games again to earn a wild card. This game had a far different feel in the familiar, friendly confines of the Coliseum, but the A’s dug themselves another quick hole.
And the visitors were the ones putting on a happy home run show this time. Oakland, which hit a franchise-record 257 homers, is 0-6 in winner-take-all playoff games at home since 2000 and 0-9 in all such games since then.