Hold Cash accountable for the right reason

Blake Snell (center) leaving the mound. Cash should answer for bringing Anderson in, not taking Snell out.

I didn’t want to go here now. I thought I’d taken care of that two essays ago. But since it seems the mob won’t let go, I guess I’ll have to. Even if I have an audience of ten. So I’m going there: Lifting Blake Snell was not the biggest mistake Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash made in World Series Game Six Tuesday night.

He lifted the right pitcher but relieved him with the wrong pitcher. That’s what turned the Rays’ early 1-0 lead—on Randy Arozarena’s one-out-in-the-first smash into the right field seats—into the 3-1 Series-losing defeat.

If you are one of my ten readers, you’ve already read it, so bear with me just in case there’s an eleventh reader lurking. Snell was dealing through five full. The cards began getting just a little shaky in the bottom of the sixth, and it’s not as though Snell hasn’t been there before.

Over his entire career, Snell has been the way, oh, just about every starting pitcher worthy of the job has been: He’s easier to hit the third time around the order than he is the first. Makes no sense without the numbers? Here we go again:

Blake Snell Around the Order BA OBP SLG OPS
First Time .205 .280 .312 .592
Second Time .234 .316 .396 .711
Third Time .247 .329 .413 .742

Snell opened the bottom of the sixth getting Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder A.J. Pollock to pop out to short right center field, with Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe ambling out for the catch. Then, on 1-1, Snell hung a slider in the middle for Dodger catcher Austin Barnes to line off the middle into center for a base hit. But he’d started Barnes with a fastball that was slower than his peak speed just a couple of innings earlier.

Remember: Snell finished his evening with nine strikeouts, an awful lot of swing-and-misses, and having struck out the side in the first and the third. He also hadn’t gotten past the sixth inning all year long. And his third-time-around-the-order numbers, analyst Eno Sarris reminds us (just in case we’d known before), are 23 percent worse than the league average for starting pitchers.

And looming on deck as he dealt with and lost Barnes was Mookie Betts.

The Mookie Monster. The guy everyone else is still screaming struck out twice against Snell earlier in the evening and only hit .200 against lefthanders this year. This truncated, irregular-season year. (Which is why his mere 64 plate appearances against lefthanders this year don’t really mean all that much.) Betts is also the guy who hits .297 with an .888 OPS against lefthanders lifetime. It’s practically even-up in the splits with his numbers against righthanded pitchers: .302/.897.

Since the commentators during Game Six made such a point of mentioning it, it’s only right to mention it here, too: From his years with the Boston Red Sox, Betts had the most direct experience of any Dodger against Snell. Here’s the part they didn’t mention so far as I knew in the moment: Betts hit .304 with a .370 on-base percentage against Snell lifetime entering this postseason.

Cash wanted a righthander to match up with the righthanded Betts, even with Betts’s near-even split. He had righthander Nick Anderson up and throwing as Snell started the sixth. He was hoping for a return engagement by the Anderson who was lights out in nineteen irregular season gigs (0.55 ERA; 1.35 fielding-independent pitching rate; 0.49 walks/hits per inning pitched rate; 26 strikeouts and no walks in sixteen innings). Not to mention the Anderson who struck six Yankees out in four and two thirds division series innings.

He got, instead, the Anderson whose American League Championship Series ERA was a ghastly 8.31 while striking nobody out, walking three, and surrendering seven hits; and, whose postseason total entering Tuesday night was a 6.75 ERA and a 1.88 WHIP.

Cash should have thought sooner and better of Ryan Thompson, the rookie who’d been lights out in six ALCS and World Series games with his 1.93 postseason ERA (and zero ERA in the Series) and 1.18 postseason WHIP (and 0.38 Series WHIP), and who’d worked a one-walk, one-strikeout, fifteen-pitch ninth in Game Five two nights earlier. If not Thompson, then Diego Castillo would have been a viable option even with his 3.38 Series ERA, but Thompson really was Cash’s best hand among the Rays’ righthanded bulls.

Maybe you should listen, too, to Anderson himself. “Workload, 2020 season, the whole thing is just crazy, honestly,” he told reporters post-Game Six. “Not having a normal routine, lifting, the season, everything — it’s been crazy. I didn’t feel as good as I would have liked to, but it’s the big leagues; you’re not going to feel good every time. I was still confident. It wasn’t the situation, it wasn’t being in the World Series or anything like that. Not a lot of gas.”

Anderson himself admitting he wasn’t feeling a hundred percent or maybe even seventy-five percent. Cash read Snell properly as Snell began tiring but he read Anderson not at all. Thompson wasn’t even a Game Six rumour, never mind a topic.

The screamers roasting Cash for hooking the hot hand didn’t stop think about the hotter hand. Not in the moment, not when Betts ripped a double down the left field line, not when Anderson wild-pitched Barnes home with Series MVP Corey Seager at the plate, and not when Betts slid home ahead of a throw down from first on Seager’s hopping ground out.

Please, let’s not go there again about “heart” and “character” and “fortitude.” Do you really want to be reminded how often men and teams stand and play proud, with all the heart, character, and fortitude you can ask for, and then some . . . and still get sunk crossing the Jordan to the Promised Land?

Do you still really want to let Snell hang in there to face the Mookie Monster? The net result might tell you yes, but the deepest and most objective look says no. Cash’s mistake was Anderson. Lucy, that and only that is where the manager and his front-office overseers got some splainin’ to do.

The Boys of Pandemic Summer

The Mookie Monster, after hitting his eight-inning Game Six blast.

They don’t have to say “wait till next year!” for the eighth straight year. Crowning a season that once threatened not to hit the field at all, the Los Angeles Dodgers have reached the Promised Land—for the first time since the near-end of the Reagan Administration.

They threw several mountains off their shoulders while Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash, whose club fought the Dodgers gamely and exuberantly, assumes one that may or may not take three decades plus shake away. No, it’s not exactly the one you think it is.

But first, the credit where due. To the Dodger bullpen whole and Julio Urias especially for turning the Rays off Tuesday night, after Randy Arozarena—the rookie whose season was delayed fighting COVID-19, who arose first in September, then made this postseason his personal possession—hit the first pitch of his one-out, top-of-the-first plate appearance the other way into the right field seats.

Credit Mookie Betts—Mr. Everything, whom the Boston Red Sox decided they could ill-afford, for reasons that may make sense in worlds of flight and fancy but not necessarily on the third stone from the sun—with seizing the moment once Cash made his right-to-wrong move in the bottom of the sixth, doubling to set up second and third—for Austin Barnes to come home on a wild pitch and Betts to have third with eventual Series MVP Corey Seager at the plate.

And, with running home like a thief ahead of Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi—the guy who split and leaped his way into whatever Tampa Bay hearts still beat—throwing down the line on Seager’s hopping ground out up that line.

Credit the Mookie Monster again with leading off the bottom of the eighth by catching hold of Rays reliever Pete Fairbanks’s 0-2 slider hanging just enough under the middle of the zone and hanging it over the center field fence.

Credit Urias, the seventh pitcher on the night of the running of the Dodger bulls, with two and a third’s closing relief so spotless the young man would have a future making and advertising disinfectant if he didn’t have such a splendid one as a major league pitcher.

Now hold the Rays responsible for spending too much of this Wild Series forgetting how to hit with runners in scoring position, including and especially their 0-for-4 and leaving six men aboard total in Game Six.

And, now hold Cash to account for the bottom of the sixth.

Yes, his lefthanded starter Blake Snell was dealing big through five and a third. Including two hits, no walks, and nine strikeouts that including striking out the side in the first and the third. Yes, Snell looked none the worse for wear opening the sixth getting A.J. Pollock to pop out on the inning’s first pitch and surrendering a followup base hit to Barnes.

Remember what you were taught about looks not being everything? Snell’s entire career shows he’s less effective by a considerable distance when he faces a batting order the third time around. The first time, they other guys have hit .205 against him. The second time, they hit .234. The third? They’ve hit .247. The OPSes against him are .592 the first go-round, .711 the second, and .742 the third.

Betts may have hit only a .200./313/.218 against lefthanders in 2020, but for his career he hits .297 against them with an .888 OPS. Want to know the difference when he hits against righthanded pitching? Five points in the batting average, nine in the OPS. You may not have known those things off the bat, but Cash probably did. He probably also knew that Betts—the Dodger with the most previous experience facing Snell—hit .304 with a .370 OBP against the lefthander prior to this postseason.

With Betts scheduled next following the Barnes single, and Seager right behind Betts, Cash didn’t want Snell getting murdered on the spot at his most historically vulnerable if he could help it. No matter how good Snell looked getting to this point. Even Snell knows it through his obvious disappointment at being hooked.

“I felt good,” the lefty said postgame. “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.”

The real problem wasn’t Cash hooking Snell but whom he had ready to follow. If he wanted the righthander-to-righthander match with Betts possibly feeling a little too familiar with Snell by this moment in a World Series elimination game, Nick Anderson—who’d been lights out on the irregular season but vulnerable enough this postseason (6.75 ERA, 1.88 walks/hits per inning pitched rate entering Game Six)—wasn’t his best choice.

Cash would have been better served with Ryan Thompson, who’d worked an efficient ninth in the Rays’ Game Five loss and who hadn’t surrendered a single run in three appearances and two and two thirds innings Series work entering Game Six. But Thompson didn’t seem to be a rumour, never mind a topic Tuesday night.

Sometimes you throw the book into the fireplace. Sometimes you stay with it. Sometimes you make the right move and get blown up. Sometimes you make only half the right move. Lifting Snell was the right half. Prepping and bringing Anderson in showed only too clearly how the wrong half died.

Yes, I regret the decision because it didn’t work out. I thought the thought process was right,” Cash said postgame, knowing he’ll be second-guessed for it for the rest of his life and then some. “I totally respect and understand the questions that come with it. Blake gave us every opportunity to win. He was outstanding. They’re not easy decisions . . . Didn’t want Mookie or Seager seeing Blake a third time. There was no set plan. As much as people think, there’s no set plan.”

It was only half right.

And it wasn’t even close to the worst managing decision any postseason ever saw. It wasn’t Charlie Dressen picking fastballing Ralph Branca over curve balling Carl Erskine with fastball-hitting Bobby Thomson checking in at the plate and the 1951 pennant playoff on the line. It wasn’t Tommy Lasorda deciding it was safe to pitch to Jack Clark with first base open and the Dodgers one out from forcing the 1985 National League Championship Series to a seventh game.

What was all right was the Dodgers in their triumph exorcising eight previous seasons in which their regular-season, National League West-owning dominance got cut off at the postseason pass every time, including back-to-back World Series losses that began to make even those among themselves and their fans who don’t believe in extraterrestrial trickeries begin wondering if they were . . . you know . . .

No. Let’s not go there. Not now. Let’s stay with the current program. With Hall of Famer to be Clayton Kershaw pitching like a Hall of Famer this postseason, his manager making bloody well sure he couldn’t be left in a position to get blown up after stout effort, and savouring that brief postgame spell of heavy, hard breathing relief before joining the party.

With the entire team’s pick-up/dust-off/start-over approach to Game Five after that Three Stooges-meet-Hitchcock Game Four loss at the eleventh-last second in the eleventh hour. With the exuberant Betts and Seager leading the Dodger packs at the plate and stolid Justin Turner keeping them glued, focused, and ready to rumble.

With Betts, period, hell bent to cross the Jordan after the Dodgers dealt for him and David Price in February. “I was traded for to help get us over the hump,” Betts told reporters, “so I used that as my fuel.” He put whatever was left of the Rays’ fire out with gasoline, is all. Seager may have won the Series MVP award. Betts probably made himself the Series MVP in hearts and minds.

Now let’s hold Turner to account for a phenomenal mistake when the Dodgers finally crossed the Jordan.

He had to be lifted from the game in the eighth inning when the Dodgers got word he’d tested COVID-19 positive Tuesday, after a prior test on Monday’s off day proved inconclusive. Assorted officials league and team asked him to isolate himself for prudence and safety sake. Turner wasn’t going to let a little thing like a COVID-19 positive keep him from the party.

Not brilliant. Hadn’t baseball put itself through enough contortions from the sublime to the ridiculous to get anything resembling a season in at all? How brilliant did it look for one of the Dodgers’ signature leaders to come out that irresponsibly and possibly put an entire band of world champions and their families at risk?

How brilliant, too, would it have been if the Rays somehow found one more dose of eleventh-hour unreality and forced a Game Seven—would Turner’s action have delayed that for who knows how long until the rest of the Dodgers plus the Rays tested clean? Remember the irregular season, when even single positive COVID-19 tests meant for postponements.

Remember, too, as The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal and other commentators do, that enough with the Dodgers are higher risk. Manager Dave Roberts has survived cancer; relief pitcher Kenley Jansen—who fought and beat COVID-19 in July—has a heart condition; at least one Dodger player has a pregnant wife.

Dear Lord, wasn’t it hard enough for the Boys of Pandemic Summer even in a pandemically-truncated irregular season to get back to the Promised Land at long enough last without that? Nobody forgets Turner the longest-tenured Dodger who isn’t Kershaw or Jansen, Turner who played on six previously-frustrating NL West champions. But tenure usually carries responsibility with status.

The Dodgers’ ancestors of 1955, winning at last what proved the only World Series triumph Brooklyn would ever know, had nothing on this. This may be the first time in the long, glory-to-surreality-and-back history of the World Series, in which the winners needed as many prayers after they returned to the Promised Land at last as they did in the three decades plus it took them to get there.

A 2-1 Dodger advantage feels more like 3-1

At any angle, from any view, Walker Buehler overpowered the Rays Friday night.

“They’re more of a manufacturing team than a pure slugging team like Atlanta might be,” said Walker Buehler, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Game Three starting pitcher, before he actually went out and pitched against the Tampa Bay Rays. “You never know what lineup you get. We’re trying to figure out what they may do against you and work off that.”

Buehler then went out and hung a “Closed for Repairs” sign outside the manufacturers’ plant. The Rays don’t exactly have all the time in the world to put the repair crews to work.

The fixings will probably begin with otherwise stout Rays starter Charlie Morton. The same guy who flattend his old buddies from Houston to help the Rays win the pennant in the first place. The Dodgers slashed five runs on seven hits out of Morton in four and a third innings while Buehler refused to let the Rays catch hold of his full-zone fastballs or force him to work off-speed. Making it feel as though the eventual 6-2 final was a lot worse than a four-run deficit usually is.

Buehler does that when he’s on. He even takes a no-hitter into the fifth when need be. With one slightly off-the-charts outing the righthander suddenly turned the World Series from anyone’s to win to the Rays’s to lose. The Dodgers’ 2-1 Series advantage felt more like 3-1 when it finally ended.

“That might be the best I’ve ever seen his stuff,” said his catcher Austin Barnes after the game.

Buehler didn’t just expose the Rays’ continuing postseason flaw of striking out when they can’t and don’t make contact. The Rays have now done what no postseason team in history has accomplished, striking out 180 times.

They also have 113 hits, making them the only postseason team in history to hit 67 fewer times than they’ve struck out. In the middle of that, they went ten straight games—Game Four of their division series through Game Two of this World Series—with more strikeouts than hits.

Buehler’s thirteen punchouts also left the Rays striking out nine times or more in ten straight postseason games and a twelfth postseason game this time in which they struck out ten times or more. And, with thirteen hitters getting K’ed three times or more in single games.

“It’s like . . . people always say, ‘Why don’t they just hit the ball the other way when they shift?’” said Rays manager Kevin Cash Friday postgame. He laughed like Figaro, that he might not weep. “It’s hard enough just to hit the ball.” Against Buehler, whose three hits surrendered seemed like momentary lapses into generosity, it was impossible enough.

Against Morton, alas, with his fastballs not finding their intended destinations and his breaking balls left a little too readily over the plate, for a change, he might have been fortunate that seven hits were all the Dodgers could get. Begging the question as to why Cash, who normally thinks nothing of such moves when he smells trouble, left him in as long as he did this time around.

Sure Cash thought nothing of hooking Morton in Game Seven of the American League Championship Series at the first sign of trouble in the top of the sixth. And the world went bonkers over that. Since when does a manager that fearless not get his bullpen working and his man the hell out of there when he’s in the hole 3-0 with two out but two on in the third—the first of whom got there as a hit batsman off the foot?

All three of the Dodgers’ hits have come with two strikes,” tweeted ESPN’s Jeff Passan after the third. “And all three have been on pitches Charlie Morton left over the plate. Dodgers lead, 3-0, and they’re doing it against a pitcher whose opponents hit .170/.207/.284 vs. him with two strikes this year.

The Dodgers now have 87 runs this postseason. Fifty of them have come with two outs. “There’s two outs, but you can still build an inning, not giving away at-bats,” says the Mookie Monster, one of four Dodgers to knock in at least a run with two outs Friday night. “That’s the recipe. That’s how you win a World Series.”

I’m always fascinated by Kevin Cash’s pitching decisions,” tweeted The Athletic‘s Jayson Stark after the fourth inning. “Last Saturday, Charlie Morton had 66 pitches and a 2-hit shutout in the 6th – and Cash took him out. Tonight, he was down 5-0 with 78 pitches through the 4th – and got left in. Much quicker hook when Cash has a lead.”

Much harder for Cash to get away with bass-ackwards thinking, too. Not a single Rays bull poked his nose out of his stall before and after Max Muncy lined a two-run single to center. It took until the fifth—after Dodger catcher Austin Barnes dropped his safety-squeeze RBI bunt and Mookie Betts’s full-count, followup RBI single made it 5-0 in the fourth—before the Rays bullpen gate finally swung open.

Did you guess what happened from there right? If not, here it is: Four Rays relievers kept the Dodgers to a single run and three hits in their four and two-thirds innings work. They walked only two and struck out four. In other words, the Rays’ bullpen did what the Rays’ bullpen normally does. They just started four and a third innings too late Friday night.

It doesn’t discredit the Dodgers’ hitters to suggest Cash might have let them break into the house—only beginning with Justin Turner’s one-out, high line home run in the top of the first—and steal all the jewels and cash they could carry. The only thing the Dodgers swiped once Cash finally reached for the armed guards was Barnes catching hold of a John Curtiss slider that didn’t slide as far under the middle as it was supposed to slide and sending it over the center field fence in the top of the sixth.

Get the feeling the Dodgers are turning brand-new Globe Life Field into Dodger Stadium II? They’re not just pitching as though it’s their own vacation home, but they’ve hit one more home run in sixteen postseason games there than the Texas Rangers hit in thirty irregular season games in their brand new house.

Delayed security is not the best idea when you’re up against a Buehler who’s hell bent on making sure nobody got into the Dodgers’ house except Manuel Margot with a one-out double and Willy Adames with a two-out RBI double in the bottom of the fifth.

“Being a big-game pitcher and really succeeding on this stage, there’s only a few guys currently and throughout history,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts postgame. “He’s in some really elite company, and I’m just happy he’s wearing a Dodger uniform.”

With Friday night’s flush and the prospect of facing Buehler in Game Seven if the Series goes that far, the Rays would prefer he wear a police, fire, or military uniform right now. Those they can handle. Buehler they couldn’t. When he finished the fifth his lifetime postseason ERA stood at 2.34 and his 2020 postseason ERA alone stood at 1.88. And his streak of nine straight postseason gigs with a minimum six strikeouts and two runs allowed or less became the longest in Show history while he was at it.

“I think the more you do these things the calmer you get,” said Buehler postgame. Not about any records but just about pitching up when you’re striking for the Promised Land. “I don’t want to keep harping on it, but I enjoy doing this. And I feel good in these spots.”

As for World Series games pitched with ten or more punchouts, no walks, and no bombs surrendered, Buehler became only the eighth pitcher to have one. The previous Magnificent Seven: Sandy Koufax (1965), Bob Gibson (1968), Tom Seaver (1973), Randy Johnson (2001), Roger Clemens (2001), Cliff Lee (2009), and Adam Wainwright (2013).

Tampa Bay left fielder Randy Arozarena hit an excuse-us solo homer off Dodger closer Kenley Jansen with two out in the ninth. He’s now hit as many home runs in this postseason (eight) as he did when he was finally past his COVID-19 bout and saddled up for what was left of the irregular season. He also set postseason records with what’s now 52 total bases and 23 postseason hits as a rookie.

Turner had to settle merely for his first postseason bomb since 2017 and for tying Hall of Famer Duke Snider on the Dodgers’ postseason homer list with his eleventh. Barnes also slipped into the record books. Only one man previously had ever homered and squeezed a run home in the same Series game, and that was more than half a century ago.

We take you back to Hector (What a Pair of Hands) Lopez, New York Yankees outfielder, off Cincinnati Reds pitcher Bob Purkey in the deciding 1961 Series Game Five. Barnes is thus the only catcher ever to turn the single Series game bomb-squeeze trick. Roll over Bill Dickey, and tell Yogi Berra the news.

If only Arozarena’s bombings had better timers. Only four of his eight postseason bombs so far have either tied a game or given the Rays a lead. The rook whose 1.340 OPS in the first three rounds widened as many eyes as his home runs has a mere .885 OPS in the Series thus far.

The Rays overall are only hitting a .206/.250/.381 Series slash. They’ve actually struck out at the plate six fewer times than the Dodgers, but they’ve been out-hit by five, out-homered by three, and out-scored by seven. With Morton’s ghastly 10.38 Game Three ERA and Game One starter Tyler Glasnow’s grotesque 12.46, you have to remove them to find the Rays otherwise with a 2.10 Series ERA. Remove Dylan Floro and Dustin May from the Game Two equation, and the Dodgers otherwise have a 2.20 Series ERA thus far.

Timing is everything in this Series. The Rays’ inability to find theirs at the plate against Buehler and Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers’ finding and finer tuning theirs against Morton and Glasnow, and Cash’s timing off twice on charging his bulls, are three major reasons why the Dodgers holding a 2-1 Series lead feels more like a 3-1 lead going into Saturday night.

This is what the Dodgers saved Julio Urias for. You may have heard a little chirping after he didn’t appear even in a bullpen stir during Game Two, when the Dodgers couldn’t beat the Rays at their own bullpen game. They’d better hope he isn’t too well rested; he hasn’t pitched since he closed out NLCS Game Seven with three shutdown innings last Saturday. And he’s going up against a by-necessity Rays bullpen game with Ryan Yarbrough possibly opening and possibly going three.

That’s the game the Rays usually master. Now it’s the mastery they need desperately enough.

The Blake and Brandon Show

Blake Snell, meet Sandy Koufax.

Realistically, the Tampa Bay Rays didn’t have to come into World Series Game Two wearing hazmat gear Wednesday night. Losing Game One didn’t mean rolling over and playing dead for the Los Angeles Dodgers no matter how formidable the Dodgers looked winning.

Especially on a comparative off night for the Mookie Monster, an on-night and then some for slumping Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe blasting his way out of the funk, an off-night for the Dodgers’ bullpen, and an off-the-charts night for Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell concurrent to a kind of typical night for the Rays’ bullpen.

All of which collaborated on a Series-leveling 6-4 Rays win in Globe Life Field that inspired the pandemically-mandated sparse live human crowd to make enough noise that they sounded like 111,000 instead of the approximate 11,000. Didn’t  that sound refreshing after an irregular season full of cardboard cutouts in the seats and canned noise in the ballparks?

Snell, the tall lefthander who sometimes resembles a tree waving in the heavy wind when he delivers, made World Series history in Game Two. He became only the second pitcher ever to pitch four no-hit innings with eight or more strikeouts in a Series game. He joins a Hall of Fame lefthander named Sandy Koufax, who did it in Game One of the 1963 Series. Rather splendid company to join.

What else did Snell have in common with Koufax? Going four and two-thirds innings before surrendering their first hits and staked concurrently to a 5-0 lead.

Koufax struck Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle out and got Roger Maris to pop out behind the plate. Then, he surrendered three straight singles before striking Hector Lopez out pinch-hitting for Hall of Famer Whitey Ford. This being 1963, the days of wine and roses, and nobody thinking pitchers threw inhuman pitch volumes, Koufax went all the way, struck a then-Series-record fifteen out, and probably threw about 160-180 pitches or so before he was finished.

Snell got Cody Belllinger to ground out to third baseman Joey Wendle behind shortstop in an infield shift and struck A.J. Pollock out swinging on one of his biting sliders. Then, he walked Enrique Hernandez, threw a 2-1 pitch to Chris Taylor that disappeared over the right field fence, walked Mookie Betts, and surrendered a base hit to Corey Seager on a hanging slider.

This being 2020, the days of whine and coronavirus, and especially about thirty times more smarts about pitching and what individual arms and bodies will or won’t allow, Rays manager Kevin Cash remembered his usual script and got Snell out of there in favour of Nick Anderson.  Anderson struck Justin Turner out after starting behind 2-0 for the side.

And more than somewhere in this favoured land, the sun is shining bright, the band is playing somewhere, even in isolation. But the old-school grumps fume not just over the “early” lift of Snell—whose 88 pitches in four and two thirds a) might have been 189 pitches if he’d gone nine in theory; and, b) were less efficient than Clayton Kershaw throwing ten less in an inning and a third more in Game One—but the “early” arrival of Anderson.

Isn’t he the actual or alleged closer? Who the eff brings his closer in in the goddam fifth? An older grump, to whom purists were as anathematic as bunts when it came to trying to, you know, win, has your answer.

Casey Stengel thought absolutely nothing of reaching for fresh pitchers as early as needed if the other guys got ornery enough. He did it with Joe Page to send that skintight 1949 pennant race to the absolute final day; he did it with Bob Turley in Game Seven of the 1958 World Series. “Casey’s reasoning,” his biographer Robert W. Creamer recorded, about that’ 49 game when Allie Reynolds walked his way into third-inning trouble before surrendering an RBI hit, “was that it was a ninth-inning situation. He needed a stopper, right now.”

Just ask Buck Showalter and Mike Matheny. Showalter blew a trip to a 2016 American League division series and Matheny lost a 2014 National League pennant because you were “supposed” to save your closer for the “save” situation. Even if he’s damn well the best pitcher on your staff that year.  Edwin Encarnacion’s Toronto Blue Jays and Travis Ishikawa’s San Francisco Giants would still like to thank Showalter and Matheny for going by The Book.

Koufax got off a lot more easily than Snell. Taylor’s blast made Game Two’s score the same as Koufax’s final score, 5-2. The ’63 Dodgers staked Koufax’s lead in the second inning with a double, two singles, and a three-run homer (John Roseboro), and in the third with an RBI single.

STATS Perform records that Snell was the 62nd pitcher in World Series history to take a no-hitter into the fifth and only the second who didn’t make it out. The first? Ralph Branca,  in 1947 Series Game One. After four no-hit innings of his own, the Brooklyn righthander got pricked by Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio with a leadoff single. Then it was walk, hit batsman, two-run double (by Johnny Lindell), walk, and day over for Branca as the Yankees went on to win.

The Rays Wednesday night had Snell in the black right out of the chute, especially against this year’s collection of Dodgers who make a normal point of abusing lefthanded pitching to the point of human rights violations. They had a .990 team OPS and one home run every 14.7 at-bats entering Game Two.

Tighten your slack, dial long distance.

Lowe picked an even better moment to break himself out of the horrific postseason batting slump that belied his standing as possibly the Rays’ best irregular season hitter. He batted with one out in the top of the first, got himself into a juicy 3-1 count against the Dodgers’ rookie opener Tony Gonsolin, and hit one over the center field fence.

If Dodgers manager Dave Roberts’s plan was to get two innings out of Gonsolin, the Rays reminded him of the best-laid plans that go to waste in the second. Manuel Margot walked on five pitches, stole second with Joey Wendle at the plate, tagged to third on Wendle’s deep center field fly out, and Roberts went to the pen sooner than probably planned.

Dylan Floro escaped trouble the hard way. Margot running on contact when Willy Adames grounded one to short was a dead pigeon at the plate. Floro really dodged trouble when Adames took off for second as ball three to Kevin Kiermaier went down and well enough away, heaving heavy relief when Seager kept the tag on Adames as he came off the base in his slide and the initial safe call was overturned.

Floro held fort in the third with a lot of help from Seager, who threw Kiermaier out on a grounder and caught Mike Zunino’s pop back in shallow left field. Roberts played the matches then and brought lefty Victor Gonzalez to take care of lefthanded Rays designated hitter Austin Meadows, who popped the first pitch to shallow left where Turner and Seager ambled out to short left but Seager raced past Turner for the catch.

The Rays struck again in the fourth. A one-out walk to Randy Arozarena, whose home run bat seems to have cooled off considerably over the first two Series games, and a force out at second thanks to Dodger second baseman Enrique Hernandez bobbling Ji-Man Choi’s first-pitch grounder. Roberts lifted Gonzalez for rookie Dustin May, and Margot more or less snuck one through the open right side away from the infield shift for a base hit.

But there was nothing sneaky about Wendle banging a two-run double past Betts and off the right center field wall. Then Lowe wrecked May and the Dodgers again in the fifth. With two outs, and Joe Kelly throwing in the Dodger bullpen, Meadows lined a long line single to right center and Lowe launched an 0-2 fastball off the top of the left field fence and gone.

The middle infielder carrying a grotesque 6-for-56/19-strikeout slump into Game Two couldn’t have broken out of that mire better if he’d sent three line drives right down Dodger throats. “Yeah, those felt really good,” he told reporters post-game. “It felt great to kind of get back and contribute to the team. They’ve been doing so well for the past month. It felt really good to get back and actually start doing stuff again.”

“Lowe” in his case rhymes with “wow,” which is what his bombs induced out of teammates and spectators alike. All he had to do to fix himself was touch base with his longtime hitting counselor Hunter Bledsoe and heed Bledsoe’s reminder to take the slack out of his batter’s box posture.

“The reason Brandon has a cool moment like this is because of the fact that he’s unwilling not to,” Bledsoe himself told ESPN’s Jeff Passan. “People can pout. They can blame. He just works, man. And at the end of the day, regardless of what happens, it’s a hard game. And you can trust in that. It might not be on the time schedule we want, but eventually it will pay off.”

Wendle’s sixth-inning sacrifice fly off Kelly provided the sixth Rays run. Dodger catcher Will Smith made it 6-3 when he rocked Anderson for a one-out launch over the left field fence in the bottom of the sixth. Seager spoiled Pete Fairbanks’s otherwise fine relief outing with a leadoff blast in the bottom of the seventh. But Rays lefthander Aaron Loup cleaned up with two outs the second of which caught Bellinger, of all people, looking at strike three just above the dead middle of the plate.

Loup got the first two outs of the ninth without breaking a sweat. He struck late-game entry Edwin Rios out and retired late-game Dodger catcher Austin Barnes on a fly out to left. Then Cash went to Diego Castillo and Taylor looked at two strikes before swinging for strike three and the game. Did you know this was the first time a relief pitcher ever nailed a one-out World Series save coming into the ninth with two outs and nobody on?

Dodger fans spent a lot of the evening wondering why Roberts didn’t open with Julio Urias. That’ll be Urias completely fresh to start Game Four, after Walker Buehler starts against Charlie Morton in Game Three. Roberts has had his blindspots during his postseason managing life but he’s not entirely addlepated.

Before anyone else gets any more ornery about Cash lifting Snell in the fifth, listen to Snell himself. “I’m not gonna be mad at Cash. He’s got to manage. I’ve got to play,” he said post-game. “But I know I have to do things better, to make it harder for him to come out and pull me. I made it easy there with the walk, the homer and then the walk. You know, you can’t blame him for that. He’s trying to win a World Series game.”

If Cash ends up having to try winning a Game Six, that’ll be Snell fresh and ready to go. That’ll also be Roberts and the Dodgers likely, for now, to face a choice between opening with Gonsolin or with May. Think about that, too.

The Rays off script, the Dodgers on top

Clayton Kershaw opened the 2020 World Series with more than a flourish.

Somehow, no matter what the pandemic threw down in baseball’s way, we managed to arrive at the World Series. Somehow, the game’s 99 Cent Store from Tampa Bay bumped, pole vaulted, and sky dove to a Series against the game’s Amazon from Los Angeles.

In Globe Life Field, the brand-new playpen of the Texas Rangers. Where the turf is artificial, the roof makes it resemble the hangar for a Boeing 747, and you can just can all the hoo-ha about the wonders of a neutral-site World Series.

The Dodgers entered with a sort-of home field advantage.They’ve been playing at Globe Life from their National League division series forward. With the pandemic-inspired divisional geography schedule on the irregular season, the Rays never got to play the Rangers even once.

They’ve been been playing there from their division series forward. With the pandemic-inspired divisional geography schedule this irregular season, the Rays never got to play the Rangers even once. And the Dodgers sure took advantage of that inadvertent home-field advantage of a sort Tuesday night.

They waited out a hard labouring Rays starter Tyler Glasnow, aided and abetted by Rays manager Kevin Cash forgetting his well-tested plot, then flipped their merry-go-round to cruising speed from the fourth through the sixth innings, and beat the Rays in Game One, 8-3.

Clayton Kershaw did more than his share starting for the Dodgers. With the continuing questions about his overall postseason life of bad fortune, Kershaw brought the best of his new self to bear, his sliders out-numbering his fastballs, striking out eight through six and getting nineteen misses on 38 swings against him for the highest single-game whiff rate of his entire major league life.

“Kershaw was dealing,” Cash said postgame. “You see why he’s going to the Hall of Fame one day.”

What nobody could see clearly was why Cash pushed his luck with Glasnow labouring to survive, his eight strikeouts negated by six walks—including the leadoff pass to Max Muncy opening the bottom of the fourth to start the Dodgers’ fun—and with only a 2-1 deficit against him when he came out of it.

Will Smith grounded Muncy to second almost right then and there. But Cody Bellinger—the man who rang the Atlanta Braves bell so resoundingly in the seventh National League Championship Series game—hit the first pitch into the Dodger bullpen in right center field. After walking Chris Taylor to follow and wild-pitching Taylor to second, Glasnow was lucky to escape with his and the Rays’ lives on a pair of back-to-back strikeouts.

That’s where Cash moved against his own successfully established grain. The Rays live and prosper on not letting the other guys get third cracks at their pitchers and thus keeping their pitchers from falling into position to fail or get failed. They play that game better than most and rolled the American League’s best irregular season record for their trouble.

Cash withstood the alarms blasted after he lifted Charlie Morton in American League Championship Series Game Seven after five and two-thirds efficient innings when trouble brewed with the Rays up 3-0. The move aligned perfectly to the Rays’ usual M.O. and it paid off with a pennant.

On Tuesday night, though, he left Glasnow in for the fifth despite 107 pitches to that point. With Ryan Yarbrough throwing in the Rays bullpen, Glasnow walked Mookie Betts on four straight balls following an opening strike. Over the past three seasons including a 34-start span, Glasnow had only thrown 100 pitches or more in a game three times, and Tuesday night wasn’t exactly one of his prime outings.

Cash still didn’t make a move after the walk to Betts. Room enough for the Dodgers to boot the merry-go-round. Glasnow walked Corey Seager after Betts stole second without a throw on a low pitch. He struck Justin Turner out, somehow—except that Betts and Seager delivered a near-textbook double steal.

Then Max Muncy bounced one right to Rays first baseman Yandy Diaz. Diaz threw home. This was supposed to be one of those plays the Rays’ usually larger-than-life defense executes with an arm missing and half asleep. Except that Diaz’s throw arrived up the third base line and Betts slid into the plate while Seager took third and Muncy stood safe at first.

“The at-bat with Muncy right there,” Cash said post-game, “just was hoping it felt like [Glasnow] was the best guy to get a strikeout.” Not on a night when only 58 of Glasnow’s 117 total pitches were strikes. Glasnow himself acknowledged trying to rush things a little too much in the beginning, but once he adjusted that he thought his mechanics were off.

“I have to execute pitches better and hold runners better,” he said, admitting the latter is probably his weakest attribute. “Later in the game, I wasn’t really able to throw anything for a strike except the heater. I think the changeup, I probably should have thrown that a little bit more . . . That curve ball, later on, I really didn’t have much feel for it.”

Smith knocked Seager home and Muncy to third with a jam-shot single to center. Finally Cash brought in Yarbrough, a good relief pitcher but a young man whose career to date includes that he’s vulnerable pitching with one out and rare (for him) inherited runners but better when he starts an inning clean.

The lefthander got rid of the lefthanded Bellinger on a pop up to third, but righthanded Chris Taylor lined Muncy home with a clean single to left and pinch-hitter Enrique Hernandez sent Smith home by shooting a base hit between short and third.

Yarbrough escaped with no further damage. Cash sent Josh Fleming out for the sixth. The Mookie Monster sent his first pitch into the right field seats. An infield pop out later, Turner and Muncy doubled back-to-back. Fleming didn’t surrender another run through his next two innings worth of work but that came under the too-familiar heading of taking one for the team.

Not that the Rays left things uninteresting on their end. They chased Kershaw’s relief Dylan Floro with one out in the seventh. Manuel Margot singled right through the middle infielders and Joey Wendle drove on to left center that Bellinger gave a great chase until the ball hit off the heel of his glove, setting the Rays up with second and third.

Then Cash sent Ji-Man Choi to bat for Willy Adames. Dodger manager Dave Roberts brought in lefthander Victor Gonzalez to face the lefthanded Choi. Cash pulled Choi for division series hero Mike Brosseau. And Brosseau lined Margot home with a single to right with Wendle stopping at third. He didn’t stay long. Kevin Kiermaier—whose fifth-inning solo home run was his first hit since being hit by a pitch in ALCS Game Three—lined a single to right to send Wendle home.

It was the final Rays homecoming of the night, but it almost wasn’t. Rays catcher Mike Zunino lined a missile right through the box that Gonzalez snatched just sticking his glove to his right, the ball’s force spinning him right into position to throw and double up Brosseau scrambling back to second. A hair off line or the glove missing by a hair and that missile might have been an RBI single with the Rays still swinging. Might.

The Rays tried to flip their own merry-go-round switch and the Dodgers succeeded in throwing a stick into the motor belt, with Pedro Baez and Joe Kelly finishing up throwing the spotless final two innings.

It was also a night to make history. Kershaw nailed his 201st lifetime postseason strikeout, moving him into second place behind his fellow likely Hall of Famer-to-be Justin Verlander. Betts became the first player in World Series history to homer, steal, and score twice in the same Series game. Cash became the first Little League World Series player to manage in the World Series when he grew up.

“It’s great to get the Series going with a win,” said Kershaw to reporters after the game. “That’s the biggest thing, for us, is to get going. Get that first game—it’s always important to get that first game of a series. Just for me, personally, it’s awesome, you get to pitch well and get a win in a World Series. Like I said, I’m just thankful for another opportunity.”

Bellinger going deep looked like a man who shook off the shoulder dislocation his NLCS bombing brought when it happened during the dugout celebration. He took no chances this time.”I said it before the game,” he told reporters post-game. “If I hit one today, I’m not touching anyone’s arm. I’m going straight foot.”

Since he hit the first Dodger bomb of the Series, Bellinger got to lead the first such dance. Appropriately. And you thought last year’s World Series champion Dancing Nationals knew how to bust moves and cut rugs.