Bob Melvin surprised many with his decision to tap Sean Manaea over Mike Fiers to start Wednesday’s winner-take-all Wild Card Game.
While the decision to go with Manaea was easily the most startling, Melvin unveiled more surprises when he announced the A’s starting lineup less than four hours before first pitch.
Despite Sheldon Neuse’s late-season success, and Jurciskon Profar’s defensive shortcomings, Melvin went with the switch-hitting veteran over the slugging rookie.
The decision to go with Profar, Melvin said, was heavily weighted by his head-to-head experience against Tampa Bay starter Charlie Morton:
“Pro’s been swinging the bat really well, and he’s got some experience off of Morton, too — Morton can be very tough on righties, trying to get as many lefties in there as we can.”
Profar’s four career hits in head-to-head matchups with Morton is fewer than only Marcus Semien among those on the A’s Wild Card roster. He is also the owner of the sole RBI in two games against the Rays ace this season.
Asked about Profar getting the start, Semien said he has noticed that his Wild Card double lay mate is never overmatched in big at-bats.
“I’d take Profar against any team’s ace. Charlie is one of those aces. .. I have total confidence in Juricklson
Melvin also went with rookie Sean Murphy behind the plate over veteran Josh Phegley.
Both Melvin and Rays manager Kevin Cash admitted that this will be a chess match of aggressive in-game moves — pinch-hitters, pinch-runners, defensive swaps and a potential plethora of pitching changes.
Said the Oakland skipper:
“(Cash) and I have gotten to know each other a little bit over the last couple years and have a mutual respect for how each team does things — there’s a lot of similarities.”
For all the mid-game moves that could be in store, though, Semien said managing matchup began with Melvin’s announcement of Manaea as the A’s starter Tuesday:
“They have some good left-handed bats that they left out of the lineup.”
The most notable of the roster tweaks is former-A and current Rays leadoff man Joey Wendle getting benched in favor of right-handed rookie Mike Brosseau. First baseman Ji-Man Choi, the author of several late-season clutch hits for Cash’s bunch, will also start the game on the bench.
Melvin made the decisions seem to be the easy and obvious choices:
“I think they’re trying to get as many right-handed hitters in the lineup as they possibly can — guys that are impactful against left-handed pitching.”
“Given Sean Manaea, as tough as he is, especially against left-handed [hitting], we wanted to do anything we could to thicken our lineup with righties.”
In a showdown between the A’s and Melvin, who has cultivated a reputation as a matchup guru, and Cash’s Rays, the engineers of the opener, the only thing that is for sure is that the nine men the 18 men who start the game will not be the ones who finish it. For the the Oakland braintrust, anything is possible in a one-game playoff:
“We’re playing for today’s game. Until you win this one we’re not even thinking about what’s after this.”
Oakland’s 10th man
The Town has a reputation as a sports haven. The Raiders and Warriors are revered for their passionate fanbases. And the A’s, who have seen lulls in turnout through woebegone regular seasons, have an equally raucous crowd of fanatics that can disguise its numbers through energy.
Both clubs are prepared for maximum energy in maximized numbers Wednesday.
“Guys on the other team get on base and they talk about how loud it is here compared to other places, compared to their home field. That means a lot.”
Matt Olson added:
“It’s a different feel here. You don’t think too much about home field advantage in baseball … but when this place gets packed it’s a big advantage for us.”
With upwards of 50,000 fans expected, Cash said that his club need to draw from past experiences of playing in front of packed stands in Boston and New York:
“These fans are special fans. … When the Oakland Athletics are playing well, you’ve seen it on TV, this is a pretty special environment … we’ve got to just embrace it.”
Melvin, a Bay Area native who has taken in his fair share of events at the Oakland Coliseum, said:
“Oakland fans are unique, they can make this place a serious home field advantage for us. Hopefully we can give them something to cheer about.”