In a head-spinning span of four batters Wednesday night, Blake Snell had gone from no-no to no-go. The Dodgers, who had been silent for 4 2/3 innings, suddenly had two runs on the board and the tying run at the plate in the fifth inning of Game 2 of the World Series. So Rays manager Kevin Cash expelled Snell and turned to the bullpen crew affectionately known as “The Stable.”
On a night when the Rays enjoyed a two-homer awakening from Brandon Lowe and evened up the best-of-seven World Series with a 6-4 win at Globe Life Field, having a more “Stable” pitching plan than their opponent made the biggest difference of all. Tampa Bay got the big outs late, whereas Los Angeles struggled to get any outs early.
If the small-budget Rays had an advantage on the daunting Dodgers going into this Series, it rested in, well, rest. Both League Championship Series went the distance -- an exhausting seven games in seven days. But the Rays clinched their pennant on Saturday night in San Diego, the Dodgers on Sunday night in Arlington.
“You get caught [unrested] at times [in the postseason],” Cash said. “The two days off [before the Series], that helped us. … All you’re trying to do is maximize opportunities and make sure everybody is as fresh as possible when you need them most.”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had a rested Clayton Kershaw at his October best in Game 1, yet there were no fresh starters available for this one. And so Roberts took a piecemeal approach.
Lowe, who entered the game just 6-for-56 this postseason, and the rest of the Rays ate it up.
By the time the Dodgers came to bat in the fifth inning, they had used four pitchers -- Tony Gonsolin (who was a “starter” in name only, having been lifted after four outs), Dylan Floro, Victor González and Dustin May -- and allowed five runs. Lowe’s first homer -- a solo shot off Gonsolin in the first -- set the tone. And his second -- a two-run opposite-field blast on a May curveball in the top of the fifth -- gave the Rays a commanding 5-0 edge.
The struggles of rookies Gonsolin and May are particularly pronounced. The unusual October schedule has prompted Roberts to use both youngsters in a hybrid role. It’s resulted in a combined 7.02 ERA in the playoffs after a combined 2.46 ERA in the regular season.
“It's a big ask, to be quite frank,” Roberts said. “People have to adjust to certain roles. And when you're talking about playing seven days in a row and how you can get as many outs as you can in the [NL]CS, yeah, these guys are in uncharted territory. A credit to them, they're not making excuses … but we still need those guys to get important outs going forward for us to win this thing.”
Juxtapose the Dodgers’ dilemma against what the Rays received from Snell. He staved off the inconsistencies he’s shown this season long enough for Tampa Bay to take control of the game.
For 4 2/3 no-hit innings, Snell was aggressive in the zone and especially effective with his slider.
“I attacked the zone really well, mixed it really well and just did a good job keeping them off balance,” Snell said. “They’re a pretty selective team, with a couple guys that are aggressive, so I had a pretty good game plan of what I had to do to have success against these guys.”
Snell finally came undone with two outs in the fifth. After Enrique Hernández drew a two-out walk, Chris Taylor ended the no-no with a two-run shot to right. Snell then allowed a walk and a single, and Cash, who had drawn criticism for sticking with Tyler Glasnow past his perceived expiration point in Game 1, wasted no time with the hook.
The benefit of the Rays getting routed in Game 1 is that the key arms in “The Stable” went untouched. So Cash felt comfortable turning to high-leverage option Nick Anderson in the fifth-inning jam, and Anderson responded by getting Justin Turner to swing through strike three with a 95.5 mph four-seamer.
“He’s been as good as any reliever in baseball from the day that we acquired him,” Cash said of Anderson, a 2019 Trade Deadline acquisition from the Marlins. “And when the game’s on the line and he’s available, we’re going to go to him.”
Fairbanks, though, got Max Muncy to fly out and Smith to line out. Cash then turned to sidearming lefty Aaron Loup, who caught Cody Bellinger looking at strike three on a fastball over the heart of the plate. And after Loup got the first two outs of the ninth, Diego Castillo came on and needed just three pitches to strike out Taylor to end it.
The more rested staff rose to the occasion.
“Only one day off from a hard-fought seven-game series against the Braves, I think that showed a little bit today,” Taylor said. “We didn’t have all of our guys available, and then some of the guys were throwing on short rest or no rest. A day off will definitely be nice, especially for our arms.”
Thursday’s day off is a reset for the arms, but the Rays’ Game 2 win was a reset of the Series. It wasn’t a must-win for Tampa Bay in a mathematical sense, but it felt like one in an emotional sense, because the Dodgers will have a -- yes, rested -- ace in Walker Buehler ready to oppose Charlie Morton in Game 3 on Friday night. The Game 3 winner in best-of-seven series tied 1-1 has gone on to win the series 65 of 94 times (69.1%).
Capitalizing on the rest advantage was a must for the Rays. Their win adds to the intrigue of the rest of the Fall Classic.