With 4 HRs, Rays counter Yanks' game plan

October 7th, 2020

For years now, the home run has enjoyed an outsized role in the way teams try to score runs and win games, perhaps a larger one than at any other point in baseball history. Thought that trend was going to end this October? Think again. The long ball is more important than ever this postseason.

The latest example came Tuesday, when the Rays leaned on four homers and a postseason-record 18 strikeouts to claim a 7-5 win in Game 2 of the American League Division Series over the Yankees at Petco Park. Tampa Bay’s swing-and-miss bullpen sealed the victory with four scoreless innings behind , but it was the bats that came through in ways they didn’t in Monday’s opener to help the Rays tie this best-of-five series.

Teams that out-homer the opponent are now 16-0 this postseason.

“The guys responded really well,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “When you score runs, it can negate offensive decisions and certainly when they’re trying to get as many different looks as possible.”

That was what Yankees manager Aaron Boone was doing by sending out rookie righty as his ostensible starter, planning secretly to replace him in the early-going with veteran lefty to gain a platoon advantage. The Rays foiled those plans in the first inning, when lined an opposite-field solo shot off García, his second homer in as many nights.

Boone turned in the second to Happ, who was greeted by 's two-run tater and another two-run shot from an inning later. By the time took Jonathan Loaisiga deep in the sixth, the Rays enjoyed a margin they wouldn’t give back.

“We knew there was going to be a lefty coming in after García,” Meadows said. “We faced Happ before, but it’s been a while. We had to continue to keep a game plan because we knew it was going to be a left-handed pitcher. I think we showed we competed well tonight.”

It marked the first time since Game 4 of the 2012 AL Championship Series that a team hit four homers in a postseason game against the Yankees, and ninth time overall. All four homers came on fastballs, and three were projected to travel between 411-414 feet, per Statcast. Seventeen of the Rays’ 21 runs this postseason have come via the home run; they’ve hit nine through four postseason games.

“We needed every bit of them,” Cash said.

Even though they’re known more for their arms, the Rays nonetheless sprinted to the AL’s top seed this season behind what was, statistically, one of the best offenses in club history. No Rays team had ever matched the 109 wRC+ they posted in 2020, and only a few could match the 2020 squad’s output of home runs per game (third in franchise history) and runs per game (fourth best).

The curious part was the Rays did the majority of it without most of Tuesday’s major contributors. Arozarena spent only half the season in the Majors while Meadows, their best player from 2019, hit just .205 with four homers while being limited to 36 games due to COVID-19 and an oblique injury. He hadn’t homered since Sept. 12.

Arozarena, Zunino and Margot combined to hit 12 homers during the regular season. They’ve combined to hit six in 12 games this October, with Arozarena breaking out as a surprise star of these playoffs. The Rays will need his bat to stay hot if they are to come back and capture this series against their bitter AL East rivals.

“He has to be the best baseball player on earth right now,” Glasnow said. “What he’s doing is phenomenal.”

Said Meadows: “We were joking in the clubhouse that we have to start following Randy around, do what he does, to get some love.”