BOSTON -- A few hours before Game 4 of the American League Division Series on Monday, manager Kevin Cash said the elimination game would truly be an “all-hands-on-deck” situation for the Rays’ pitching staff.
He proved it in the third inning, summoning Game 1 starter Shane McClanahan as Tampa Bay’s first option out of the bullpen. But the move backfired. The Rays came back in the late innings only to fall short in the ninth, and there were plenty of questions regarding the McClanahan move in the wake of Tampa Bay’s season-ending 6-5 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
“Pretty comfortable with asking him to carry the load,” Cash said. “I'm so appreciative that he was amped up to do it. But it just didn't go our way.”
The Rays were in a tough spot heading into Game 4 after burning through nine pitchers in their 13-inning Game 3 defeat against the Red Sox. They opted to use Collin McHugh as an opener, and that move worked brilliantly as he fired two scoreless innings on only 18 pitches.
But Cash said the Rays didn’t want to let McHugh face Red Sox leadoff man Kyle Schwarber a second time, and they thought he’d thrown enough after a 37-pitch outing in Game 2. Rather than attempting to bring in McClanahan in the middle of an inning, Cash called his number to start the third against the bottom of Boston’s lineup.
Even after Cash alluded to the possibility Monday afternoon, it was still a somewhat surprising decision.
The Rays were careful all season with McClanahan’s workload, monitoring and limiting his innings and giving him extra rest whenever possible. Only five of his 25 starts in the regular season came on the standard four days’ rest; he had at least five days of rest before each of his other 20 outings. Yet he pitched Monday -- after throwing 82 pitches over five scoreless innings in Game 1 -- on three days’ rest.
There’s no denying McClanahan’s ability. He posted a 3.43 ERA with 141 strikeouts in 123 1/3 innings this season and emerged as the Rays’ most reliable starter after ace Tyler Glasnow’s season-ending injury in mid-June. But the rookie lefty hadn’t pitched out of the bullpen since last year’s World Series, and he got the call to come on in relief -- before any of Tampa Bay’s high-leverage arms -- with the Rays’ season on the line.
The thought, Cash said, was to have McClanahan cover multiple innings -- perhaps getting through the Red Sox’s lineup twice and setting up the bullpen for the final few innings.
“Mac has been such a horse for us all year long. He's a day short of regular rest and just felt like, given that stretch of the lineup, I wanted to see him try to get through the top of the lineup twice,” Cash said. “Obviously, it kind of went sideways pretty quick.”
McClanahan, who was not made available for comment after the game, gave up a leadoff single and walked Schwarber with one out. With two outs, McClanahan fired a first-pitch fastball down the middle that Rafael Devers launched out to center field for a three-run homer. He allowed two more singles and a double before exiting with five runs charged against him.
“I thought he was making quality pitches, but when you get to see guys on a quick turnaround, they had a good plan,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “It seemed like they were ultra-aggressive all night, which was a little bit of a change of pace. They were patient early on. You tip your cap. They had a good game plan. They were attacking guys early. You have that freedom when you're up a game.
“Ultimately, that game is not on Shane. It's not on anybody. We battled hard. That's a very good team over there, and they're playing really good baseball at the right time.”
Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo also acknowledged that seeing McClanahan in Game 1 helped their lineup, and they didn’t miss the pitches he left over the plate. Cash noted that Boston’s hitters didn’t swing and miss much against McClanahan in Game 1, either, one sign of a good approach against him.
“He's got a bright future ahead of him, and I wouldn't look at this as something to get too caught up in,” top reliever Andrew Kittredge said. “He’s going to be really good. He's a starter by trade. I think that's what he's most comfortable at. But he looked comfortable tonight, too. Watching him warm up, his stuff looked great. It just didn't go his way tonight.
“I don't blame Cashy for putting him in that situation, because everything that he's shown thus far points to him having success. It's just one of those things that didn't go our way tonight, but Shane's going to be really good for us for a long time.”