2018 American League Wild Card Game
|2018 American League Wild Card Game
|New York Yankees
100 - 62 in the AL
|1 - 0
97 - 65 in the AL
Contrary to its National League equivalent, the participants in the 2018 American League Wild Card Game had been known well in advance - in fact by early September. The Yankees were the first 100-win team to play the Wild Card Game, while the Athletics, with 97 wins, were not far behind. It was the second straight year hosting the contest for the Yankees.
In the game, the Yankees took an early lead against "opener" Liam Hendriks as the Athletics tried the (almost) unprecedented strategy of approaching a postseason contest as a bullpen game, and went on to win handily, 7-2, as the A's wasted their opportunities to get back in the game before the Yanks built an insurmountable lead.
Under rookie manager Aaron Boone, the New York Yankees had finished second behind the Boston Red Sox, who had set a team record with 108 wins, in the AL East. With 100 wins, they were the first team to reach that total and still have to play the Wild Card Game, and the fact they had home field advantage was small consolation to their fans who considered such a successful season should have come with a better reward that having to bet everything on one game. But the rules weer clear from the outset though, and the Yankees also had the advantage of having also hosted the game in 2017 and having learned from that stressful experience.
The first thing to know about the Yankees was that this was a team of sluggers. They had set a new major league mark by belting 267 homers, eclipsing the previous record of 264 set by the 1997 Seattle Mariners, and also had a record 12 players in double figures in the home run department. The leading contributor was DH Giancarlo Stanton with 38, but he was not considered to have had a particularly successful season: the true leaders on that team had been SS Didi Gregorius and CF Aaron Hicks, both with 27 long balls, who had been excellent on both sides of the ball. Two rookies had also made outsized contributions in 2B Gleyber Torres (.271, 24, 77) and 3B Miguel Andujar (.297, 27, 92). They were also the two leading contenders for the 2018 American League Rookie of the Year Award. Stanton, Torres and Andujar were all newcomers to the team, as was 1B Luke Voit, who had hit 14 homers and driven in 33 runs in just 39 games since his acquisition at the trading deadline. These were not the Yankees of old: they were young, athletic, built from within, and strong at every offensive position.
The only question was on the mound, as nominal ace Luis Severino had struggled down the stretch in spite of a sparkling 19-8, 3.39 record; he had also been awful in starting against the Minnesota Twins a year earlier, so it was possible that Boone would pass him over in favor of one of two veterans, Masahiro Tanaka (12-6, 3.75) or J.A. Happ (7-0, 2.69 since joining the Yanks), but in the end Boone settled on Severino. There was no such doubt about the bullpen, as it was deep and talented, although closer Aroldis Chapman had missed time in August and September and had only picked up one save after August 15th. Boone was reassuring though, stating that this was just a matter of having been extra careful given the Yankees had not played many meaningful games in the last month.
To say no one expected the Oakland Athletics to find themselves playing the Wild Card Game when the season began would be an understatement. The hip pre-season picks to battle the Houston Astros were the Los Angeles Angels and the Seattle Mariners; the A's were not even an afterthought. But they surprised everyone by getting hit in May and never slowing down. Veteran manager Bob Melvin also did a great job, seemingly turning a team composed entirely of spare parts into a contender that gave the Astros a fright and finished with an excellent 97 wins - which would have been enough to win the division most years.
Because their home park, the Oakland Coliseum, was very pitcher-friendly, it tended to obscure that the A's were a great hitting team, and that like the Yankees, the home run was their weapon of choice. They had set various records for home run hitting on the road, and had finished the season with a total of 227, second only to the Yankees in the American League. Their leading slugger was DH Khris Davis with 48 and he was also their most dangerous offensive player. However, 3B Matt Chapman had tied him with an OPS+ of 136, had hit 42 doubles and 24 homers, and was also one of the top defensive players in the majors independent of position. They had a nicely balanced offence with 8 of their starters posting an OPS+ of 110 or more, the only exception being SS Marcus Semien, who was still a dangerous hitter. Players like 1B Matt Olson, CF Mark Canha and LF Chad Pinder may not have been household names, but they were all coming off very solid seasons.
The real challenge was on the mound, though, and especially in the starting rotation. The A's had a shutdown bullpen led by Blake Treinen and his minuscule 0.78 ERA, backed up by the likes of Lou Trivino, Jeurys Familia and Ryan Buchter, who all had solid years. However, their leading starting pitcher, Sean Manaea, author of a no-hitter in April, had gone down for the season in late August with a record of 12-9, 3.59. No other pitcher had won more than 9 games, and that total belonged to closer Treinen. Left to fill the rotation were a number of retreads like Trevor Cahill (7-4, 3.76), Edwin Jackson (6-3, 3.33) and Mike Fiers (5-2, 3.74 since a late-season trade). They were not names to strike fear in the hearts of any batters, but they had been effective. As a result, it was not clear who Melvin would pick to start the game, and his choice was "noe of the above" as he decided to go with a "bullpen game", with veteran Aussie long reliever Liam Hendriks getting the start.
- Jim Wolf (HP), Greg Gibson (1B), Gerry Davis (crew chief, 2B), Alan Porter (3B), Will Little (LF) and Pat Hoberg (RF)
|Oakland Athletics 2 New York Yankees 7
|Liam Hendriks (0-1) Luis Severino (0-0)
Game 1 @ New Yankee Stadium
|WP: Dellin Betances (1-0); LP: Liam Hendriks (0-1)
|Home Runs: NY - Aaron Judge (1), Giancarlo Stanton (1); OAK - Khris Davis (1)
- Attendance: 49,620
The Yankees took an early lead in the game, and never really looked back after that. In marked contrast to his start in the 2017 Wild Card Game, Luis Severino came out pitching with supreme confidence and throwing absolute gas, setting down the Athletics in order on just 10 pitches while recording a pair of strikeouts. Liam Hendriks, who was clearly there for a maximum of five batters, was not so dominant. He struggled to find the plate, walking the first batter he faced, the very patient Andrew McCutchen, and then leaving a pitch to Aaron Judge's liking, which the big man absolutely crushed, pulling it into the left-field seats for a no-doubt two-run homer. Hendriks settled down to retire the next three batters, but the Yankees had struck a lethal wound. Severino continued to pitch no-hit ball until the end of the 4th, but it became noticeably more laborious for him as the A's batters were more patient, began fouling off pitches and drawing the occasional walk, even if they struggled to put the ball in play against his outstanding stuff. As a result he needed 20 or more pitches to get through each of the three innings, and it was clear he would not pitch deep into the game. For his part, as planned, A's manager Bob Melvin brought in rookie Lou Trivino to pitch the 2nd and the youngster gave him more than he expected, shutting down the Yankees for three full innings after not making such a lengthy outing since April.
The Athletics wasted two excellent opportunities to get on the scoreboard in the middle innings. In the 4th, Khris Davis reached on a throwing error by 3B Miguel Andujar after one out, then Matt Olson drew a walk. Stephen Piscotty hit a fly ball to shallow right, but Ramon Laureano drew another walk to load the bases with two outs. However, Severino got out of the jam by striking out Marcus Semien on a 100 mph heater, his 7th K of the evening. Then, in the 5th, Jonathan Lucroy led off the inning with Oakland's first hit, a single to left, and Nick Martini followed by pulling a ground ball through the right side of the infield for another single. Aaron Boone had seen enough and called on Dellin Betances, normally a late-inning reliever, to extinguish the flames. He did it with aplomb, getting the next three batters on a pair of fly outs and a strikeout of Davis to end the inning. Shawn Kelley replaced Trivino in the bottom of the 5th and kept the Yankees from scoring, then Betances retired the A's in order in the top of the 6th.
New York put the game away in the bottom of the 6th. Melvin called on ageless reliever Fernando Rodney to come in to pitch, and on his second offering, he completely jammed Judge with an inside fastball, but somehow the ball bounced first in foul territory, then came back to hit the line near the first base bag, then landed just fair in the outfield for one of the freakiest doubles anyone had ever seen. Two pitches later, Aaron Hicks followed with a clean double to center, and it was now 3-0. On Rodney's fifth pitch, the ball bounced off C Lucroy's glove and away from the plate, and Hicks advanced to third on the wild pitch. Melvin had seen enough, and fearful of having the game get out of reach then and there, he brought in his relief ace, Blake Treinen to try to stop the bleeding. It did not work. Giancarlo Stanton drew a walk, then stole second base uncontested. Emerging folk hero Luke Voit was up next, and he pushed a ball to the opposite field; it bounced off the wall inches away from RF Piscotty's glove, and two inches away from landing on top of the wall for a homer. Still, Voit ran all the way to third as both runners scored, and the score was now 5-0. The next batter, Didi Gregorius, hit a fly ball to left. Martini made a tremendous throw home, making a very close play of what looked like a routine sacrifice fly, but a video review confirmed that Voit had managed to avoid Lucroy's tag. Treinen retired the next two batters, but the harm had been done.
David Robertson retired the A's in order in the 7th, thanks in part to sparkling defensive plays by Adeiny Hechavarria, who had come in as a defensive replacement for Andujar at third, and by Hicks in centerfield, as the curtain was quickly falling on the A's. In the 8th, Zach Britton, infamous for not having been used in the 2016 Wild Card Game which had gone into extra innings, came in to pitch. He gave Oakland a glimmer of hope by allowing a lead-off single to Matt Chapman, then after a force out, a two-run homer to Davis, but Stanton led off the bottom of the inning with a solo homer off Treinen to put the final nail in the A's coffin. Aroldis Chapman pitched the 9th, and while he allowed a lead-off single to Semien, he struck out the next two batters before getting Chapman to ground out to first for the final out. The Yankees had a 7-2 win and were on their way to meet the Boston Red Sox in the Division Series. For the A's, it was yet another loss in an elimination game, their eighth straight dating back to Game 5 of the 2000 Division Series, which had also been against the Yankees.
- David Adler: "Why Yanks chose Severino to start against A's: New York picks flamethrower over Tanaka, Happ for AL Wild Card Game", mlb.com, October 3, 2018. 
- Ted Berg: "Athletics plan on 'bullpenning' vs. Yankees in AL wild-card game", USA Today Sports, October 2, 2018. 
- Ted Berg: "Yankees' Aaron Judge makes powerful opening statement in playoffs", USA Today Sports, October 3, 2018. 
- Mark Feinsand: "FAQs about A's-Yankees AL Wild Card Game", mlb.com, September 28, 2018. 
- Bryan Hoch: "FAQs Yankees face as they head to playoffs", mlb.com, September 28, 2018. 
- Bryan Hoch: "Yanks deny A's to set up ALDS date with Boston: Judge, Stanton, Voit power offense to back Sevy's scoreless outing", mlb.com October 4, 2018. 
- Gabe Lacques; "MLB playoffs: Yankees have edge over Athletics in what promises to be unique pitching show", USA Today, October 2, 2018. 
- Gabe Lacques: "Yankees turn A's bullpenning gambit into wild-card nightmare - but it was still right move", USA Today, October 4, 2018. 
- Jane Lee: "FAQs A's face as they head to playoffs", mlb.com, September 28, 2018. 
- Jane Lee: "For A's, Wild Card feels like 'any other game': Inexperienced postseason roster remains focused, unfazed by win-or-go-home stakes", mlb.com, October 3, 2018. 
|Major League Baseball Wild Card Game