All of a sudden, the Tampa Bay Rays look as human as an American League East champion can look. With two Los Angeles Dodgers manhandlings against them and a few too many vulnerabilities brought further into the light, they don’t even look like a World Series team going into Game Four.
Their vaunted bullpen and its deft management? Invisible in Games One and Three. Manager Kevin Cash almost inexplicably left them out of those games until it was too late to keep veteran starting pitchers Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton from being riddled.
Their penchant for hitting only when it’s timely? They’re 5-for-18 with runners in scoring position all Series long. They’re 4-9 in the two games they lost and 1-for-9 in the game they won. Figure that if you can.
The Rays better figure it and fix it fast enough, unless they’d like Game Five to be their elimination game—with Game One winner/maestro Clayton Kershaw scheduled to start—if they can’t solve Julio Urias and the Dodger pen in Game Four.
Morton admitted he was off his game starting Game Three. “I think I could have done a better job of slowing it down a little bit, especially early,” said the veteran righthander Friday night. “I just never got into a groove. I never really felt comfortable out there, which, even in playoff games, I’m able to eventually get there if I don’t have it early, and I just never did. Just combine that with who [the Dodgers] are with the bats and it made for a rough night.”
The Rays bumped, ground, nudged, bopped, and snuck their way through all three previous postseason sets, in two of which they needed to go the distance, and in an American League Championship Series they were in danger of blowing after shoving their way to a 3-0 series-opening lead.
At the end of that Game Three the Rays resembled a club of flying squirrels. At the end of this Game Three they barely resembled Bullwinkle J. Moose.
They’d previously manhandled the AL East, never mind being aided and abetted by the Boston Red Sox’s complete collapse and the Baltimore Orioles’s inability to sustain the success of a 12-8 record by 15 August. They even had a deceptive 8-2 irregular season against that beastly Empire Emeritus.
Cash planned to stack his Game Four lineup with four righthanded hitters at the top against the lefthanded Urias and seven overall. The top four would be Yandy Diaz (first baseman), Randy Arozarena (designated hitter), Mike Brosseau (third base), and Manuel Margot (left field).
Pay attention: Diaz and Margot are the most deceptively-prolific World Series hitters between both teams. Both have .400 Series batting averages and .900+ Series OPSes. They’re also carrying the emptiest .400 averages you’ll see. Diaz has a walk, no extra base hits, and no runs driven in. Margot has one extra base hit, three walks, five strikeouts, one walk, and three runs scored. More men on base ahead of them, please, Rays.
And Arozarena, whose home run hitting has been setting records and raising rackets, has one problem with his postseason power—only four of his eight home runs all postseason long either tied a game or put the Rays ahead. The deeper the postseason’s gone, the fewer fastballs the fastball-flogging Arozarena’s seen.
The only decent one he saw in Game Two took a long flight—with the Rays five runs behind and an out from the loss. The rookie’s being exploited for his inexperience at forcing pitchers to throw him something hittable or turning on any breaking ball with any considerable hang time in the zone.
Tying Nelson Cruz, Carlos Beltran, and Barry Bonds with eight bombs in a single postseason, or passing Derek Jeter for hits by a rookie in a single postseason (23), is well and good. But Arozarena knows what means more. “What really means more is the win,” he told the Tampa Bay Times, “to hopefully get some victories for the team.”
Lefthanded swinging second baseman Brandon Lowe will bat behind Margot. Everyone who thought his two-bomb/three-steak Game Two meant his horrific preceding postseason slump was history got disabused for the time being in Game Three. He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, including one in the sixth with Meadows aboard on a base hit. His lone contact out was a fly to not too deep right for the second out of the ninth.
“We seem to be a much better club when we get early leads,” said Cash after Game Three. “Whatever we can do to get some runs early.” The Series bears him out so far. They scored first in Game Two and won. The Dodgers scored first in Games One and Three and won.
“There’s nothing left,” said Morton, “but to show up [Saturday] and bounce back.”
“Guys have been hitting the ball hard lately,” the manager said. They did in Game Three—when Walker Buehler wasn’t striking them out from here to eternity. “The luck hasn’t been there, but that’s all part of it. We have to stay consistent and put our work in. Eventually we’ll get some bounces.”
Eenie-meenie, chili-beanie, the spirits are about to speak!
Eventually had better pull up to the Game Four docks for the Rays Saturday night. Otherwise, it’s going to be the sad song these Dodgers sang for seven consecutive postseasons previous: “Eventually, we’ll win a World Series.” The roof will be open at Globe Life Field. The Rays can’t afford to let it fall in.