The small-market Tampa Bay Rays play baseball a certain way in trying to keep up with teams that outspend them by hundreds of millions of dollars every year. And the secret to their success is getting to their bullpen early, and riding them to the finish line.
So when manager Kevin Cash yanked starter Blake Snell with one out in the sixth inning in Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday night, viewers who hadn't watched the Rays all year where stunned with the quick hook. Snell, a 2018 Cy Young Award winner, had been tremendous, striking out nine and allowing just two hits.
He had even kept his pitch count down, which doesn't happen often, but that didn't matter. Out he went.
And then, of course, everything fell apart instantly.
Reliever Nick Anderson, who allowed only ONE run and struck out 26 batters in 16 innings during the regular season, immediately gave up a double to Mookie Betts, with Austin Barnes, the No. 9 hitter whose bloop single knocked out Snell, moving to third.
Anderson then threw a wild pitch and Barnes scored to tie the game at 1-1. Corey Seeger then grounded out to first, but first baseman Ji-Man Choi was slow to throw home and Betts scored to take the lead.
Six pitches by Anderson and, just like that, it was over.
The Dodgers added a home run by Betts in the eighth inning and the Los Angeles bullpen shut down the Rays from there, with Julio Urias getting seven straight outs to end the game.
Cash was roasted for his decision after the game, but there's this; Though he was probably wrong to yank Snell, it was still on the Rays players to do their jobs.
They didn't do that.
Nick Anderson DID NOT do his job out of the bullpen. Choi DID NOT do his job on the ground ball, reacting slow when he knew the speedy Betts was on third base. The Rays’ hitters DID NOT to their job, striking out 16 times.
And even though Julio Urias was great, you can’t end the game on TWO called third strikes. Put the ball in play. This was a TEAM LOSS that can't be blamed solely on Cash's decision.
Let's break it all down:
Cash's decision to yank Snell
To me, it was the wrong decision based on Tuesday night's analytics, not a full season's worth of data. Yes, Snell hasn't pitched six full innings in 21 consecutive starts dating back to July of 2019, but Cash should have taken into account how dominant Snell – a Cy Young Award winner and his best pitcher when he's at his best – was at that specific moment, where he was completely dialed in.
Tuesday night's data mattered the most, a fading trend in baseball. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and the opinions of others — either the talking heads on TV or the social media trolls – don't really mean anything.
The opinions that do matter? That would be the Dodgers players themselves, who were thrilled that Cash did something they couldn't do themselves – knock Snell out of the game.
“I’m not exactly sure why, but I’m not going to ask any questions,'' Betts said of Cash's decision to remove Snell. 'He was pitching a great game.”
Cash said afterward that he didn't want Dodgers hitters to see Snell a third time. From an analytics standpoint in the past two years, that's the right call. But this was Snell at his best. He hadn't pitched this well in two years. Those top-three Dodgers hitters? They were a combined 0-for-6 with SIX strikeouts against Snell. He was that dominant.
"I felt Blake had done his job and then some,'' Cash said. "Mookie coming around for the third time through, I value that. I regret the decision because it didn't work out, but you know, I feel like the thought process was right. If we had to do it over again, I would have the utmost confidence in Nick Anderson to get through that inning."
The problem with that take, though, is that Snell was better than he'd been all year. Anderson, for all of his regular season prowess, has just been average in the playoffs. He's given up run in seven straight appearances, and allowed nine runs in 14 2/3 innings.
Anderson for Snell meant a lot more during the regular season than it did Tuesday night, and Cash didn't adjust.
Snell reaction, rightfully
Snell threw a bit of a fit when he was pulled in the fifth inning of Game 2, but he was struggling that night and had just given up a homer, two walks and a single. He was angry to get yanked Tuesday night, but this time it was with good reason. He was that good.
"I am definitely disappointed and upset," Snell said. "I just want the ball. I felt good. I did everything I could to prove my case to stay out there, and then for us to lose, it sucks. I want to win, and I want to win the World Series, and for us to lose, it just sucks.
"I am not going to question him. He's a helluva manager, so I am not going to question him. And I can only look forward to what I am going to accomplish this offseason. But we came up short, and the only thing I can focus on is what I can be better at next year."
Energizing the Dodgers
Simply removing Snell from the game was a momentum shift in itself. The Dodgers felt like they had new life before Anderson even stepped on the mound.
"I was pretty happy because Snell was dominating us, and we just weren't seeing him," Roberts said. "We were all kind of excited that Snell was out of the game."
Betts greeted Snell's removal with "sigh of relief" from the team, and Seager said it "uplifted" the Los Angeles hitters.
"He was tough all night," Seager said of Snell. "You tip your cap to him. He threw a helluva ballgame. He had us off balance, he made pitches, we grinded, we battled, and we didn't really have an answer for him.
"Once he came out, it uplifted us a little bit, for sure. We started feeling a little momentum, we scratched a few runs and we ended up winning."
Tough loss to swallow for Cash
Kevin Cash has pushed all the right buttons for Tampa Bay all season. They went 40-20 during the regular season, winning the tough American League East. They beat Toronto, New York and Houston in the playoffs playing the way they do.
And they came up short to a Dodgers' team that was a team of destiny all season anyway. The second-best team in baseball lost to the best team, and that's not all that shocking.
"I don't know if I have the best answer right now," Cash said. "He did above and beyond what any of us could have asked for. To limit that lineup the way he did was outstanding, and he gave us every opportunity to win. It was a gut-wrenching decision and I feel for Blake.
"He put it all together for us in a big way. But just like every decision I've made throughout the playoffs, I tried to put us in the best position to win. It just didn't work out.''
Rays players would have loved to see Snell stay out there.
"I don't really care what the numbers say about third time through the order and all that,'' said Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, a Fort Wayne native who played at Purdue. 'That was his game and he was dominating. That's the best I've seen him in a long time. We really thought he could have pitched two or three more innings''
City of Champions? Not yet
The Dogders' world title comes just two week after the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA title. This World Series was something of a tiebreaker, because the Tampa Bay Lightning had won the Stanley Cup.
So that gives the city of Los Angeles a 2-1 lead in the race for "Title Town'' in 2020, but it's not over yet.
Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you're on the clock.