Rays' four 'horses' team up to make history

October 10th, 2020

When manager Kevin Cash famously declared the Rays have “a stable of guys who throw 98 mph” earlier this season, maybe he was being more than pugnacious. Maybe he was being prophetic. That’s because the Rays’ dramatic, cathartic, 2-1 Game 5 victory over the Yankees on Friday wouldn’t have happened without those arms, which Cash deployed with ruthless, premeditated precision to lead his team toward its first American League Championship Series in more than a decade.

By giving , , and each one turn -- and no more -- through the Yankees’ lineup, Cash stuck to a pregame script in a historically unique way. It was only the second time a team has had four pitchers throw two-plus innings and won a nine-inning postseason game. The only other instance was the Dodgers in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

That time it wasn’t by design. This was. The Rays didn’t just lean on their stable, they emptied it. And it worked.

“Are you surprised?” Anderson asked afterward. “This is kind of the Rays way: switch things up, do something a little different. Everyone is on board, everyone knows anything can happen.”

For Tampa Bay, the strategy was clear: Don’t let a single Yankees hitter get more than one look at any Rays pitcher. It was an all-hands-on-deck, engineered-by-bullpen-management victory if there ever was one, and the Rays earned a date with the Astros in the ALCS as a result.

The next challenge for Cash will be how to manage that bullpen in the event of seven games in seven days, beginning with Sunday night at Petco Park. That is, for the moment, an issue for another day.

Let’s take a look first at how the Rays pieced together Friday’s win, and how it sets them up going forward:

“The gates were open and the horses were running,” Fairbanks said.

Innings 1-3: Tyler Glasnow

Planning for the Yankees’ righty-heavy lineup, the Rays tabbed Glasnow on two days' rest over lefty , knowing they’d ask the right-hander to only get through New York’s lineup one time. Glasnow delivered, striking out two and working around two walks before handing the ball to Anderson with an out in the third. Glasnow was done in by two homers in Game 2; he let only two of the nine batters he faced put the ball in the air, though he did walk two after pitching a 1-2-3 first.

At the very least, Glasnow held serve with , who worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the first and held the Rays scoreless until ’ fourth-inning solo homer. When can Glasnow pitch next? He won’t be on full rest until Game 4, which would limit his ALCS involvement. Maybe the Rays find a creative way to get him involved earlier.

“This has been the theme of all year: A bunch of guys coming in and closing the door,” Glasnow said. “That was such a phenomenal game. It was definitely one I’ll never forget.”

Innings 3-5: Nick Anderson

We knew Cash wouldn’t hesitate to go to Anderson, his best reliever for the better part of the past two seasons. And he didn’t, calling on the right-hander with two outs and one on in a scoreless game in the third inning, the earliest Anderson had entered a big league game. In doing so, Cash chose to prioritize the most immediate outs and save Snell for an extra-innings scenario, if that presented itself.

The irony for Cash is that his most automatic reliever actually allowed the Yankees to score their only run. Surrendering an opposite-field solo shot in the fourth, Anderson coughed up just his second homer in 23 appearances this year. He retired six of his next seven hitters to hold the line until Meadows tied things in the bottom of the fifth, throwing a season-high 32 pitches to do so.

“I didn’t know how many innings I had or how early I was coming in,” Anderson said. “I cracked that Red Bull open in the first inning!”

Said Cash: “We were fairly clear with Nick: You need to be ready to go right out of the gate.”

Innings 6-8: Pete Fairbanks

Cash hadn’t gone to the hard-throwing but erratic Fairbanks since Game 2, before summoning him to replace Anderson in the sixth inning of a 1-1 game. Almost immediately, Fairbanks got into trouble, allowing an Aaron Hicks single and then walking Stanton with two out. Fairbanks then blew a 100.1 mph fastball by Luke Voit to end the frame, then struck out Gleyber Torres and Brett Gardner in a scoreless seventh.

It took Fairbanks a career-high 40 pitches, but he kept the game tied.

“I’ll throw until my arm falls off. Nick will throw until his arm falls off,” Fairbanks said. “I just figured my job was to keep the lead safe. And I don’t think anybody who ever followed the game of baseball could’ve been happier with how that one ended, especially with [Mike] Brosseau getting a little revenge after he just got decapitated.”

Innings 8-9: Diego Castillo

The most important part about Fairbanks’ outing was that it set up Brosseau’s heroics, though Tampa Bay did get another scoreless inning out of Castillo before that drama unfolded. Castillo then worked a 1-2-3 ninth after Brosseau homered, striking out four across two innings and not letting a ball leave the infield.

The reward is a date with Houston in the ALCS, a rematch from last year’s ALDS, and a series that could potentially run seven games in seven days. That will present challenges like never before for Cash’s relief corps, which ranked as the most productive in the Majors this season and powered Tampa Bay past the rival Yankees.

“I figured we were all going to throw,” Fairbanks said. “I don’t think Cash could’ve asked for it to go any better.”

“It was the perfect ending to that series,” Glasnow said. “That’s the philosophy of our team. To have everyone come in and shut the door, and that was completely impressive.”