Rays pull strings of Anderson's great escape

October 13th, 2020

One of the foundational principles of Rays baseball is tight games with tense finishes, and in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series at Petco Park in San Diego on Monday, it was ’s turn on the tightrope.

Anderson took the mound in the top of the ninth with Tampa Bay holding on to a 4-1 lead, and by the time he recorded the final out, the Rays had a 4-2 win and sat just two wins away from the World Series. How he got from Point A to Point B isn’t nearly as simple, though, and shows just how valuable the club’s brand of clean, mistake-free baseball can be when one of their relievers takes a rare stumble.

The inning started with three consecutive singles, and the pressure was on. The first two, off the bats of Yuli Gurriel and Josh Reddick, didn’t look particularly threatening, but they found holes and balanced out some of the poor batted-ball luck the Astros had earlier in the game.

That’s when Anderson made his biggest pitch of the inning, getting George Springer to hit a ball on the ground where he could get some help from the Rays’ defensive positioning. Second baseman was shifted to the perfect spot to corral the hard grounder, one of four balls hit with an exit velocity north of 95 mph that inning. He stepped on the bag and fired to first for the double play, putting the Rays one out away.

If that double play from Lowe sounds familiar, it should. In the Rays’ 2-1 win in Game 1 on Sunday, Lowe turned a double play on a similar ball in the eighth inning to preserve the one-run lead.

It was already clear that Anderson didn’t have his best stuff, but manager Kevin Cash understands that this roster always finds a way to balance itself out. What allows the Rays to weather storms is that when one player has a poor performance, his teammates rally around him.

“We’ve got a talented group of players, and sometimes that talent doesn’t always show up at the same time,” Cash said. “Right now, certainly on the pitching and the defense, it’s there. They are playing with a very minimal margin of error, and they’re getting it done -- making the plays behind the pitchers, and the pitchers are making big pitches.”

With the score then at 4-2 after a run crossed on the double play, Anderson lost the strike zone entirely.

Anderson threw eight balls in a row to Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley, and they weren’t particularly close. The Rays’ bullpen didn’t stir, though. This was still the right-hander who posted a 0.55 ERA with 26 strikeouts over 16 1/3 innings in the regular season.

Surprisingly, Alex Bregman then stepped to the dish and swung at the first pitch he saw. Bregman hit the ball hard all day without the results to show for it, and he did it again, launching the ball 371 feet with an exit velocity of 98.4 mph. But you’ll need numbers even bigger than those to escape the range of center fielder , who tracked it down to record the final out.

A sigh of relief met a burst of celebration for the Rays, particularly shortstop , who Cash described as “as good a representation of a Tampa Bay Ray as you could ask for.”

“We just have fun, and we’re enjoying this time,” Adames said. “We’re just trying to compete. You’ve got to play your best right now. If you don’t win, you go home, and we don’t want to go home. We’ve just got to play our best and try to win games.”

Just as Anderson has saved his teammates throughout 2020 with elite-level innings at the back end of the bullpen, his teammates picked him up in Game 2. In Game 3 on Tuesday, it could be the offense picking up a defensive blunder, or another gem in the field like ’s highlight-reel catch saving a pitcher from a long inning. Much has been made of how the Rays have a different player step up in each game, and this is just another example on their long -- and growing -- list.

There’s room for more, too.

“We’ve got some other guys that certainly can get hot here,” Cash said, “and if we do, we’ll just become that much more dangerous of a club.”