The decisions went from merely game-wrecking to dangerously negligent on the night the Dodgers clinched their first World Series title in 32 years.
First, there was Rays manager Kevin Cash, whose analytics-driven strategy to pull a brilliant Blake Snell — after only 73 pitches — ultimately led to their 3-1 downfall in Tuesday’s Game 6.
Afterward, it was the Dodgers’ turn, as they inexplicably stood by as Justin Turner — removed from the game in the eighth inning because of a positive COVID-19 test — bolted from isolation to celebrate on the field with his teammates, even taking off his mask for the team photo.
Obviously, we’re talking varying degrees of bad here. Cash choosing to blindly follow the Rays’ organizational playbook, and disregard Snell’s mastery, had immediate consequences. We may not know the full ramifications of the Dodgers’ recklessness for days, or even weeks, depending on the additional testing and contact tracing.
Let’s handle the baseball malfeasance first. Snell had protected a 1-0 lead into the sixth inning, with nine Ks, before Austin Barnes’ one-out single prompted Cash to call on reliever Nick Anderson for the top of the Dodgers’ order. Never mind that Snell’s misplaced slider to Barnes was his only blip, or that Anderson had been a shell of himself lately, allowing runs in each of his previous six appearances. Since the ALCS, Anderson had allowed 11 hits, two homers and six earned runs in seven innings.
That trend continued. Anderson unraveled again as Mookie Betts followed with a double, the Dodgers tied it on Anderson’s run-scoring wild pitch and then took the lead for good on Series MVP Corey Seager’s RBI fielder's choice, despite the drawn-in infield. It’s not an exaggeration to say the Dodgers were rejuvenated by Snell’s exit. As for Cash, the Rays’ trusted formula finally betrayed them, primarily because the manager failed to recognize the right time to disregard it.
"Personally, I felt Blake had done his job, and then some," Cash said. "Blake gave us every opportunity to win. He was outstanding. They're not easy decisions. I didn’t want Mookie or Seager seeing Blake a third time."
That would be the same Mookie and Seager, along with Turner, who were a combined 0-for-6 with six strikeouts against Snell. There also was no evidence to suggest their luck was going to change anytime soon. Snell had sown doubt among the Dodgers’ feared lineup.
"I was pretty happy, because he was dominating us and we just weren’t seeing him," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "So once Austin got a hit off him, and they went to the pen, Mookie looked at me with a little smile. We were just all kind of excited that Snell was out of the game."
Snell was understandably furious, and his teammates felt the same way. The Rays know the drill, and Snell tends to be on a short leash anyway, but this time was different, especially facing elimination.
"For most of that game, man, I was dominating every outcome possible," said Snell, who struck out nine of the first 13 batters. "And I wanted to keep going. I felt so confident. I wanted to go that whole game — burn the tank and see how far I can go."
Count Kevin Kiermaier, the longest-tenured Ray, among those who sided with Snell — and questioned Cash in this instance.
"I don't really care what the numbers say — third time through the order, whatever," Kiermaier said. "There wasn't many guys making contact in general and no hard contact whatsoever. I think we all wanted to see him stay in there."
Both Snell and Kiermaier acknowledged that Cash had done a great job all season in these situations. They credited the manager — along with the front office — for the Rays making it as far as Game 6 of the World Series. But if there ever were a time to scrap the blueprint, Snell provided one Tuesday night.
"I guess I regret it because it didn't work out," Cash said. "But I feel like the thought process was right. I mean, every decision that's made, the end result is the weighing factor on how you feel about it. If we had to do it over again, I would have the utmost confidence in Nick Anderson to get through that inning."
Next time, if I were Cash, I’d go with Snell. Maybe there’s no guarantee that would have worked. But even Betts didn’t necessarily figure to have the edge for that sixth inning. He had a .218 slugging percentage against lefthanders during the regular season, which put him at the very bottom of the league, and Snell was rolling.
"That was one of my better games I’ve pitched in a long time," Snell said. "It's just tough, man. You guys are gonna write bad stories on the decision, but Cash is usually right."
While we’re on the subject of being wrong, what were the Dodgers possibly thinking after Game 6?
Nobody even knew why Turner had been lifted in the eighth inning until Fox later announced his COVID positive during the postgame show. Moments later, Turner was back on the field, holding the World Series trophy and hugging teammates.
During much of those festivities, Turner was wearing a mask — as were the other Dodgers — but those all came off when they assembled for a team photo that did not feature social distancing. Incredibly, after nearly four months of following strict pandemic protocols, the Dodgers apparently didn’t think twice about putting everyone at risk, on the final night of the season, celebrating with Turner.
"He’s part of the team," Betts said. "Forget all that. We’re not excluding him from anything."
If the Rays had won Tuesday, who knows when Game 7 would have been played. But now the Dodgers, and Major League Baseball, could have much bigger problems in the days ahead if this sparks another outbreak.
The season ended Tuesday, but the pandemic is far from over. Why would anyone be surprised, in 2020, that the World Series ultimately wasn’t immune to it either.