Before Arozarena launched a fifth-inning homer and stole home in the seventh, the focus was solely on Shane McClanahan, who tossed five scoreless innings, allowing just five hits with no walks and three strikeouts in his first career postseason start to become the fifth rookie in Rays history to record a win in the playoffs.
“A lot of questions about Shane coming in, and rightfully so,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He hasn't done it in a postseason that much. I think he answered a lot of them with just his poise, the composure that he showed on the mound and just making quality pitches.”
At 24 years, 162 days, McClanahan is the youngest pitcher to throw at least five scoreless innings with no walks in his first career postseason start, surpassing Christy Mathewson (25 years, 58 days) in Game 1 of the 1905 World Series. But he looked far from inexperienced against the Red Sox.
McClanahan induced five whiffs and had 11 called strikes with his heater -- the second-most called strikes on the offering of his career, trailing his outing against Minnesota on Aug. 13 in which 12 of his fastballs were called for strikes.
“I felt like I could throw anything at any time for a strike,” McClanahan said. “Ultimately, I didn't get any more strikeouts after the first, but I would rather do what I did and just be efficient and let them hit the ball.”
McClanahan got off to a hot start, striking out the side in the first inning. He punctuated the frame by fanning Rafael Devers on a 100.1 mph four-seamer, marking the Rays’ second-fastest postseason strikeout in the pitch-tracking era (since 2008), behind Tyler Glasnow (100.4 mph in Game 2 of the 2020 ALDS). But when McClanahan ran into some traffic in the second and struggled to miss Boston’s barrels, his defense proved to have his back each time.
“I feel like it's every single night, man,” McClanahan said. “They saved my tail so many times, so I feel very lucky to have that group of guys behind me, like I said all season. You know, nothing has changed. They're going to go out there and make the plays.”
What makes his outing even more impressive is that McClanahan has found a way to consistently perform against the Red Sox. Entering Thursday night, the rookie had faced Boston three times, owning a 2.81 ERA in 16 innings.
“This is a team, being the Red Sox, that know him very well,” Cash said. “There's no secrets. They know what he is trying to do, and he was still able to execute and make big pitches, and the guys behind him made big plays when we needed to.”
But this outing did much more than prove that McClanahan can handle the spotlight. His five dominant innings -- paired with some offensive help -- allowed the Rays to save some of their deadliest weapons out of the bullpen in Andrew Kittredge and Collin McHugh, turning to JT Chargois, David Robertson and J.P. Feyereisen to handle the last four frames.
It goes without saying that the Rays have their eyes set on a return to the World Series for the second consecutive year. In order to get there, the team will need to learn from its experiences in 2020, including having an overtaxed bullpen by the end of the postseason run. The team can’t control how much it’ll need to turn to its relief corps early in the playoffs, but a start like McClanahan’s was exactly what Tampa Bay needed to start this October run and will need to continue to get in order to have a better outcome than 2020.
And McClanahan showed on Thursday that he can help get his team there.
“It's an honor to pencil him in for Game 1 of a DS,” Cash said. “We couldn't be more thrilled with the way Shane has developed over the course of the season."