Oakland Athletics

Athletics made a mistake not starting Mike Fiers in Wild Card game

Mike Fiers should’ve started the AL Wild Card game for Oakland on Wednesday. Instead, they went with Sean Manaea, a decision that didn’t pay off.

For the second straight postseason, manager Bob Melvin’s pick to start the Wild Card game for the Athletics came back to haunt them.

Melvin decided to go with lefty Sean Manaea to start on Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays instead of veteran right-hander Mike Fiers. Manaea gave up three home runs, two of them to Yandy Diaz, in the first three innings as the Athletics fell behind 4-0. They currently trail 5-1 in the sixth inning at RingCentral Coliseum.

Last year, it was reliever Liam Hendriks that Melvin sent to the mound in Yankee Stadium to start the Wild Card game instead of Fiers. That move didn’t pay off, either, as Hendriks gave up a two-run home run to Aaron Judge in the first inning and Oakland never recovered, losing to the Yankees 7-2.

The 34-year-old Fiers did everything he did this season to deserve the start. He pitched a no-hitter in May, led the team in wins, games started and innings pitched, and was second in winning percentage and WHIP to Frankie Montas; Montas isn’t eligible for the postseason after testing positive for PEDs during the season and being handed an 80-game suspension. Aside from a rough outing on Sept. 9 in Houston (where he gave up nine runs in just one inning against the Astros), Fiers has a 2.93 ERA since the All-Star break.

But it was Manaea who was on the mound in the late afternoon in Oakland to begin the game. Manaea didn’t pitch badly this year. In fact, he was spectacular, albeit in limited work. He made his first start in more than a year on Sept. 1 after recovering from shoulder surgery and went on to make five appearances the rest of the month, going 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA.

Manaea’s dominating stuff, however, deserted him on Wednesday. He gave up a lead-off home run to Diaz on the fifth pitch of the game, and another to lead-off the third inning that chased him from the game. He also surrendered a two-run home run to Avisail Garcia in the second inning. Manaea had only given up three home runs combined in his five starts during the regular season. He had never given up three home runs in a game in his entire career. It’s the first time Oakland has allowed three homers in a playoff game since the 2003 ALDS against Boston, when Todd Walker hit two and Jason Varitek added another in an eventual Athletics 12-inning victory.

It’s impossible to say whether the outcome would’ve been different if Fiers had gotten the start instead. One thing is for certain, though, and that is Fiers has been tough on the Rays best hitters. Diaz is hitless in his career against Fiers. So is Austin Meadows, the Rays leading home run hitter. Tommy Pham, who hit a home run in the fifth inning off Athletics reliever Yusmeiro Petit, is 1-5 against Fiers.

If the Athletics don’t come back from the four-run deficit, another offseason of second-guessing Melvin’s decision will follow. So will another disappointing postseason exit. The Athletics have made the playoffs 10 times since 2000 but have won only one series in that time, none since 2006. They’ve lost their last four winner-take-all games.

Next: Yandy Diaz strikes early to put Rays up on A’s

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