The return of Yandy Diaz came at just the right time for the Tampa Bay Rays.
The 28-year-old infielder was sidelined over two months with a broken left foot, but returned in time for the season finale on Sunday. Though he went hitless in three at-bats, manager Kevin Cash saw enough to feel confident placing Diaz atop his batting order for Wednesday's do-or-die American League wild-card game.
The move paid immediate dividends. Diaz led off the Rays’ 5-1 victory with a home run, and then went on to make history as Tampa Bay punched its ticket to the ALDS.
The Tampa Bay Rays didn’t finish anywhere near the top of Major League Baseball’s home run leaderboard this season. But thanks to Diaz they’ve already provided plenty of fireworks in October.
In the first five innings of Wednesday’s AL wild-card game against the Oakland Athletics, the Rays exploded for four home runs to an impressive 5-1 lead. Three of the home runs were hit against Oakland starter Sean Manaea, who lasted just 10 batters and recorded only six outs.
Diaz bookended Manaea’s outing with a home run leading off the game and then another solo blast in the third.
In doing so, Diaz made some history.
In between the Diaz blasts, Tampa Bay’s Avisail Garcia jacked a 437-foot two-run homer and added an epic bat flip to boot.
Veteran Tommy Pham added a solo home run in the fifth inning to close the game’s scoring.
While the Rays did see their home run total jump from 150 last season to 217 this season, that was more of a league-wide trend that can be attributed to the baseball flying out of the ballpark at a record clip. In fact, the Rays’ improved home run total still ranked just 21st in MLB. But the early October returns suggest the home run ball could become a bigger factor with a healthy Diaz back in the lineup.
The baseball was exploding off Diaz’s bat on Wednesday. Both of his home runs were impressive and eerily similar in their trajectory.
Give Kevin Cash credit. Considering how long Diaz was sidelined, it was certainly a gamble to have him in the lineup in a game they couldn’t lose. With two mighty swings, Diaz made sure they wouldn’t lose.
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