Once again, home runs sink Athletics in wild card game

Oakland Athletics pitcher Sean Manaea (55) starts against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the American League Wild Card game at the Oakland Coliseum on October 2, 2019 in Oakland, Calif. (Chris Victorio | Special to S.F. Examiner).
Oakland Athletics fans in the third deck wave their rally towels during the first inning of the American League wild card game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Coliseum on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
A view of downtown Oakland from Mount Davis as the Oakland Athletics take on the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League wild card game at Oakland Coliseum on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Oakland Athletics fans in the left field bleachers wave flags during the third inning of the American League wild card game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Coliseum on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
An Oakland Athletics fan holds his hands on his head in dejection in the bottom of the eighth inning of the American League wild card game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Coliseum on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Oakland Athletics fans show caution in the bottom of the ninth inning of the American League wild card game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Coliseum on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
An Oakland Athletics fan grimaces in the bottom of the ninth inning of the American League wild card game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Coliseum on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Oakland Athletics fans cheer during the first inning of the American League wild card game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Coliseum on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Oakland Athletics fans watch from Mount Davis during the second inning of the American League wild card game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Coliseum on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Oakland Athletics fans pose with the oversize Dennis Eckersley, Rickey Henderson and Rollie Fingers near The Treehouse in left field during the American League wild card game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Coliseum on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Oakland Athletics fans in the left field bleachers cheer during the third inning of the American League wild card game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Coliseum on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Oakland Athletics fans in the left field bleachers cheer as the A’s score a run during the third inning of the American League wild card game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Coliseum on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Fans attend the MLB American League Wild Card game between the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays at the Oakland Coliseum on October 2, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Chris Victorio | Special to S.F. Examiner).
MC Hammer throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the MLB American League Wild Card game between the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays at the Oakland Coliseum on October 2, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Chris Victorio | Special to S.F. Examiner).
Oakland Athletics center fielder Ramon Laureano (22) hits a foul ball against the Tampa Bay Rays in the 1st inning at the Oakland Coliseum on October 2, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Chris Victorio | Special to S.F. Examiner).
Oakland Athletics short stop Marcus Semien (10) fields a ground ball hit by Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Matt Duffy (5) in the 2nd inning at the Oakland Coliseum on October 2, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Chris Victorio | Special to S.F. Examiner).
Yusmeiro Petit throws a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays during the American League wild card game at the Oakland Coliseum on October 2, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Chris Victorio | Special to S.F. Examiner).
Oakland Athletics center fielder Ramon Laureano (22) hits a sacrifice fly in the 3rd inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in the MLB American League Wild Card game at the Oakland Coliseum on October 2, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Chris Victorio | Special to S.F. Examiner).
Oakland Athletics shortstop Marcus Semien (10) slides into home for the A’s only score of the game against the Tampa Bay Rays in the MLB American League Wild Card game at the Oakland Coliseum on October 2, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Chris Victorio | Special to S.F. Examiner).
Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin walks to the mound to make a pitching change during the A’s 5-1 wild card game loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Oct. 2, 2019 at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. (Chris Victorio | Special to S.F. Examiner).
Oakland Athletics pitcher Jake Diekman (35) pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays in the 5th inning of the MLB American League Wild Card game at the Oakland Coliseum on October 2, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Chris Victorio | Special to S.F. Examiner).
Oakland Athletics rookie Jesus Luzardo pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the American League wild card game on Oct. 2, 2019 at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. (Chris Victorio / Special to S.F. Examiner)
Oakland Athletics pitcher Jake Diekman pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the American League wild card game on Oct. 2, 2019 at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. (Chris Victorio / Special to S.F. Examiner)
Oakland Athletics short stop Marcus Semien (10) strikes out swinging ending the Oakland A’s 2019 season as the Tampa Bay Rays advance to the MLB American League Division Series against the Houston Astros at the Oakland Coliseum on October 2, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Chris Victorio | Special to S.F. Examiner).

OAKLAND — Yandy Diaz pointed to the stands above the visitor’s dugout and smiled as he headed to first base, en route to his second home run trot of the night at the expense of Sean Manaea.

Behind home plate, an unidentified Oakland Athletics fan yelped a profanity. Another shouted, “Not again!”

For the second year in a row, the A’s had fallen behind early on a home run in the wild card game, and for the second year in a row, they’d bow out of the playoffs early after a 97-win season. For the ninth time in its last 10 playoff trips, Oakland won’t advance past the American League Division Series, this time thanks to a 5-1 loss at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays in front of a wild card-record 54,005 at the Coliseum.

“It just hurts when you come up short,” said third baseman Matt Chapman — the last man still in uniform in the A’s locker room. “I feel bad for the fans, because they came out and supported us. They were here early, and they were loud, and when we were down, they were trying to get us going … I’m sorry to our fans. We let them down, and we let each other down.”

Chapman then went and hugged each of his teammates. “This hurts worse than the Yankees,” he said.

Last season at Yankee Stadium, the A’s opted to go with an opener — their now-closer Liam Hendriks — and he gave up a two-run homer to Aaron Judge in the first. Oakland never recovered in a 7-2 loss. On Wednesday, the A’s had their ace Sean Manaea on the mound, and Diaz touched him up for a leadoff blast, belting a 92-mph belt-high, 3-1 fastball off the top of the right field scoreboard.

The partisan Oakland crowd had been chanting. They got quiet quickly.

Diaz — the Cuban first baseman who had played just once since July 22 — was part of a lineup that featured seven right-handers, specifically deployed by manager Kevin Cash to match up against the left-handed Manaea, whose velocity had been down since he returned in September, a year after undergoing shoulder surgery.

The A’s had thought Manaea’s lack of velocity could be papered over by his changeup. It wasn’t, not for the only team in the Major Leagues that can match Oakland, analytic-for-analytic.

Manaea struck out five over two innings, and allowed four hits and no walks. The problem was that three of those hits were homers — Diaz’s leadoff shot, then a two-run blast by Avisail Garcia in the second and Diaz’s 115.2-mph rocket to lead off the third — a shot to dead center on a center-cut, 90-mph fastball that was the third-hardest ball Manaea has ever allowed in the Statcast era. It was the first time in his big league career he’d allowed three homers in a single game.

“I was just leaving mistake pitches over the plate, three pitches got me,” Manaea said. “It stings. This one sucks. I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s a tough loss, and the loss is solely on me. I had one job, and I did very poorly and let everyone down.”

Mike Fiers — passed over to start the wild card game for the second year in a row — didn’t second-guess the decision.

“You could always look back and say, ‘You should have done this or you should have done that,’ but Manaea has pitched very well for us, and everyone was behind him, and excited he was pitching.”

The Rays — who were 21st in baseball with 217 homers this season — added a fifth-inning two-out solo shot by Tommy Pham off Yusmeiro Petit, marking the second time in Oakland history and the first time since 1971 that the A’s had allowed four homers in a playoff game.

“That’s our game; they beat us with our game,” said manager Bob Melvin. “We didn’t do much.”

Oakland — with seven players who hit 20 or more homers during the regular season and a franchise-record-setting 257 homers (fifth in MLB) — never threatened the fences. Over the final week of the season, the A’s had gone 2-for-45 with runners in scoring position, and they kept struggling on Wednesday, going 0-for-4 with men in scoring position and stranding nine men on base.

“It’s a long season,” Chapman said. “I think we were bound to hit a little skid.”

Oakland had a chance to get at Tampa Bay starter Charlie Morton early, but let him off the hook, leaving the bases loaded in the first after forcing Morton to throw 32 pitches. He kept the A’s off-balance the rest of the game through a mix of mid-to-high-90s darting fastballs and low-80s breakers. Oakland had eight hits, all singles.

The one A’s run came on a third-inning error by third baseman Mike Brousseu, who uncorked a wild throw to first on a Marcus Semien grounder. Semien advanced to third, and rode home on a Ramon Laureano sac fly.

Oakland is now 1-15 in games where they can eliminate their opponent since 2000. The last time they won a winner-take-all game was Game 7 of the 1973 World Series.

Vice President of baseball operations Billy Beane, whose Moneyball philosophy has has guided the A’s to the postseason 10 times in the last 19 seasons, has taken to calling the postseason a crapshoot, because analytics are built to hold true over a 162-game season, not the small-sample-size playoffs. Last year, the culprit was lack of pitching.

On Wednesday, Oakland had plenty. The A’s had their hottest pitcher on the mound, who threw a no-hitter in 2018 and came back from surgery to throw up a 1.21 ERA in five September starts, allowing just three home runs in 29 2/3 innings. They got three scoreless innings from incandescent future star Jesus Luzardo in relief.

It just wasn’t enough. Again.

“We’ve won a lot of games the last couple years,” Melvin said. “What we need to probably do is win the division. We want to play a longer series.”

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