The Rays have a nickname for their bullpen, as you may have heard. When manager Kevin Cash memorably said his team has “a whole damn stable of guys who throw 98 mph” during a dispute with the Yankees, "The Stable" was officially born.
But Cash has never formally named a closer, not even with one of the best relievers in baseball at his disposal. The Rays aren’t beholden to traditional bullpen usage or reliever roles, so Cash doesn’t have to commit to using right-hander Nick Anderson in the ninth inning with a narrow lead.
“When the game’s on the line and he’s available,” Cash said, “we’re going to go to him.”
That’s how it played out in Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday night at Globe Life Field. Starter Blake Snell's no-hit bid quickly unraveled with two outs in the fifth inning. Chris Taylor hit a two-run homer prior to a Mookie Betts walk and a Corey Seager single, and with Justin Turner coming to the plate as the tying run, The Stable door swung open for Anderson.
It was a potential turning point in the game, one of the highest-leverage spots the Rays would face the rest of the night, and it called for a suitably high-leverage reliever. Anderson promptly struck out Turner with a 95.5 mph fastball, beginning a bend-but-don’t-break performance by Tampa Bay’s bullpen in a 6-4 win over the Dodgers.
Anderson doesn’t have an official title, but the man with a 1.43 ERA in 42 appearances with the Rays over the past two seasons does have a job description.
“Just come in and be good. Be Nick,” Cash said. “He’s been as good as any reliever in baseball from the day that we acquired him.”
The decision to bring in Anderson had nothing to do with what inning it was. Cash asked the right-hander to escape a jam in the fifth, then handle the heart of the Dodgers’ lineup in the sixth. He wasn’t perfect, giving up a solo homer to catcher Will Smith, but he still recorded four critical outs to get the game to the seventh inning.
“He comes in in any situation from the fifth inning on that’s going to be the most crucial part of the game and locks it down for the most part,” Snell said. “He’s a legit stopper.”
Cash called upon right-hander Pete Fairbanks in the seventh. Fairbanks breezed through a six-pitch inning, with his fastball topping out at 100.3 mph as he struck out Taylor. But he, too, ran into trouble when he came back out for a second inning. The red-hot Corey Seager homered to center to make it a two-run game and Turner doubled before Fairbanks recorded the first two outs of the eighth.
“It's great, you know, just to kind of put eyes on guys that we hadn't seen before,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “Once you see guys once, twice, you just keep getting that familiarity, so that's just going to only benefit us going forward. So that's just a credit for our offense just continuing to fight and claw to kind of make sure those leverage guys got in the game.”
With Cody Bellinger coming to the plate, Cash made the somewhat surprising decision to bring in left-hander Aaron Loup. The veteran southpaw isn’t one of Tampa Bay’s top high-leverage options. He doesn’t throw a 98 mph fastball like so many of the Rays’ best relievers.
But the 32-year-old is tough on left-handed hitters, allowing only seven hits in 33 at-bats against them this season. And the Dodgers had three lefties in a row due up -- Bellinger, Edwin Ríos and Joc Pederson -- with only one right-handed bat, Austin Barnes, available on the bench.
Loup did what he was asked to do, freezing Bellinger with a 94.8 mph sinker for the final out of the eighth. Rather than immediately turning to Diego Castillo, Cash sent Loup back out for the ninth. Loup could have exited after finishing the eighth, but with the three-batter rule in effect, returning to the mound meant he had to face at least two more hitters.
Loup struck out Ríos and retired pinch-hitter Barnes. Castillo came on to strike out Taylor and so ended another night’s work for The Stable: Four relievers, 4 1/3 innings and one win to tie the World Series.
“I just think the guys down there, Cash puts them in good spots for them to succeed, and they show up,” Snell said. “That’s the biggest key for our bullpen and how good they are is Cash, he makes the right calls to put them in situations that he knows they can succeed in.”