ARLINGTON -- Over the last few days, the Rays have been asked about the challenges of facing a powerful Dodgers lineup. They got a firsthand look at those challenges on Tuesday in an 8-3 loss to Los Angeles in Game 1 of the World Series at Globe Life Field.
In postseason history, teams taking a 1-0 lead in any best-of-seven series have gone on to win 115 of 181 times (64%). One positive for the Rays? The Dodgers are 2-4 when winning Game 1 of the World Series.
“One through nine, they’re dangerous,” said Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier. “These are all things that we knew coming into the Series, and they displayed that tonight. It’s the World Series, two great teams playing each other, and they had the upper hand tonight.”
Throughout the postseason, Rays manager Kevin Cash has displayed his ability to lean on his bullpen earlier than most, usually creating a hot topic of discussion on social media.
In Game 6 of the American League Championship Series against the Astros, Cash pulled Blake Snell after just 82 pitches despite the left-hander tossing four-plus scoreless innings up to that point. The very next day, Cash took the ball from Charlie Morton, who needed just 66 pitches to get through 5 2/3 dominant innings.
While some of the decisions appear strange at times -- and are certainly not a conventional way to operate -- the philosophy is one the Rays believe has gotten them to this point. That’s what made the decision to stick with Tyler Glasnow when he got in a jam in the fifth that much more shocking.
With the Rays trailing, 2-1, Glasnow walked Mookie Betts and Corey Seager to start the inning. After the walk to Seager, Glasnow had thrown 99 pitches. He then struck out Justin Turner as the Dodgers executed a double steal. Cash decided to let Glasnow face Max Muncy with runners on second and third and one out instead of going to the bullpen.
“The at-bat with Muncy right there ... felt like he was the best guy to get a strikeout,” Cash said, when asked why he stuck with Glasnow. “We needed a strikeout after we weren’t able to hold the runners. … Felt like [Glasnow] still, with his stuff, was equipped to get a strikeout.”
Glasnow was one of the best strikeout pitchers in the regular season, whiffing 91 batters over 57 1/3 innings. He struck out eight on Tuesday, but Muncy wasn’t one of them. Instead, Muncy hit a ground ball to first base, but Yandy Díaz wasn’t able to throw the speedy Betts out at home, giving the Dodgers a 3-1 lead.
“I think I executed relatively well,” Glasnow said. “I didn’t get ahead of him, but it wasn’t a terrible at-bat or anything. If I could go back and strike him out, that would be great. But it didn’t happen that way.”
Cash still decided to stick with Glasnow despite the right-hander being at a career-high 106 pitches. That move also didn’t work as Will Smith punched a single to center field, driving in another run and ending Glasnow’s outing at 112 pitches.
Glasnow said fatigue didn’t play a role in his outing, but he became the first pitcher with six or more walks in a World Series game since Edwin Jackson had seven in Game 4 of the 2011 World Series.
“I think it was ultimately kind of a lack of strike-throwing right there,” Cash said of Glasnow’s high pitch count. “I looked up at one point and I think he was at 37 strikes, 37 balls. That’s not ideal, especially against an offense like this that can really capitalize on the free passes. So that crept up.”
Another issue for Glasnow was that the Dodgers took advantage of his biggest weakness: holding runners on base. Because of his length, Glasnow has been known to be slow to the plate, resulting in nine stolen bases in his 11 regular-season starts. The Dodgers had three against Glasnow in the four-run fifth.
“That’s definitely the weak part of my game, just holding runners,” Glasnow said. “They took advantage of it tonight. It has to be something I focus on more in the future.”
Once Glasnow was out of the game, the Rays went to Ryan Yarbrough in relief, which is not something the left-hander is used to doing in the middle innings. Yarbrough got Cody Bellinger for the second out, but back-to-back singles by Chris Taylor and Kiké Hernández wrapped up a nightmare fifth inning, which ended with the Dodgers being up, 6-1.
“We like Yarbs as being a good matchup against the lineup,” Cash said. “Basically, we know that he’s going to be probably [pitching] Game 4 in some capacity, in bulk most likely, but we had him available today, available tomorrow if needed.”
Through three innings, Glasnow was going toe to toe with Clayton Kershaw, a pitcher he watched while growing up in Southern California. The game had all the makings of a pitchers’ duel between two aces. Until it wasn’t.
Coming into the World Series, the matchup to watch was the battle between the Dodgers’ lineup and the Rays’ pitching staff. Los Angeles won Round 1, and Tampa Bay will try to counter with Snell on the mound in Game 2. The Rays will need the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner to deliver his best performance of the postseason, or Tampa Bay will face a daunting 0-2 deficit against the team with the best record in the Majors.
“It’s the game of baseball -- there’s going to be a lot more games to be played,” said Rays catcher Mike Zunino. “You know, these guys can put up runs, but it won’t always be like that every night. I have full faith in this pitching staff.”