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Left-hander Sean Manaea earns AL wild-card start for A’s

October 1, 2019
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Oakland Athletics pitcher Sean Manaea throws during baseball practice in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. The Athletics are scheduled to face the Tampa Bay Rays in an American League wild-card game Wednesday, Oct. 2. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
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Oakland Athletics pitcher Sean Manaea throws during baseball practice in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. The Athletics are scheduled to face the Tampa Bay Rays in an American League wild-card game Wednesday, Oct. 2. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Just more than a year after shoulder surgery, Sean Manaea will make his most important start yet when he takes the mound for the Oakland Athletics in the AL wild-card game.

Manager Bob Melvin named Manaea his starter for Wednesday’s winner-take-all home game against the Tampa Bay Rays. The left-hander earned the nod over Mike Fiers in a tough decision.

“I think it came down to the fact that since Manaea’s been back, he’s pitched great every single game out,” Melvin said Tuesday before his team held a workout. “We were lucky to have two guys to consider in that respect and a luxury to have two guys we’d be comfortable with, but Manaea will start.”

Manaea returned later than he had hoped following surgery last September but immediately found a groove, going 4-0 with 1.21 ERA in five starts last month.

“This is one of those opportunities I think about a lot,” the 27-year-old Manaea said of his first playoff start.

Fiers (15-4) pitched a no-hitter May 7 against the Reds to begin a 21-start unbeaten stretch in which he went 12-0.

“Mike’s been the ace of the staff this year,” Manaea said.

Fiers also was passed over for last year’s wild-card game started by opener Liam Hendriks in a 7-2 loss to New York at Yankee Stadium.

Rays right-hander Charlie Morton (16-6, 3.05 ERA), who is set to start for Tampa Bay, praised Manaea’s remarkable comeback.

“It’s nice to see that,” Morton said. “That’s a really big deal. The shoulder is a tricky thing to come back from and it’s not a guarantee and then to make it back and pitch well enough to not only be on the roster but start this game is a big deal. It speaks for what I’m assuming what was a really rough and prolonged rehab. It’s nice to see that, it’s good for baseball.”

It’s been a long journey back for Manaea with a couple of setbacks during his recovery. Oakland waited patiently, hoping to return Manaea to the form he showed during a no-hitter against the eventual World Series champion Red Sox on April 21, 2018.

“No-hitter, that was huge, but it’s only one game,” Manaea said. “I know it was against the Red Sox. This is a completely different beast.”

Having let his hair grow since January, Manaea was headed to get it braided before his outing. When Melvin called Manaea into his office a couple of days ago and asked the pitcher whether he wanted the ball Wednesday, Manaea’s answer was immediate:

“Hell, yeah!”

“Crazy how things turn out,” Manaea said. “Obviously there’s a lot of pressure. You can’t shy away from that. This game means everything.”

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