'Rays Baseball' doesn't seem to work against the Rays
You just don’t out-Ray the Rays. Can’t be done. Whether it’s the Yankees in Game 2 of the ALDS, or the Dodgers in Wednesday night’s Game 2 of the World Series, going the Johnny Wholestaff route against Tampa Bay — the franchise that perfected the concept — always seems to backfire.
And for the Rays, that’s got to make wins like this 6-4 victory a bit more enjoyable, once again beating another big spender this October, another greenback Goliath. The coastal elites, if you will.
The circumstances surrounding Wednesday’s Game 2 at Globe Life Field weren’t all that different than a week earlier in San Diego, when the Rays fell behind 0-1 to the Yankees and sent Blake Snell to the mound. Just as the Yankees’ ill-fated opener plan unraveled that night, the Dodgers couldn’t slow the Rays this time with seven pitchers — burning through four of them in four innings.
Tony Gonsolin — the L.A. "starter" — was kept around for five outs, despite giving up just one hit, the first of Brandon Lowe’s two homers. The previously slumping Lowe, along with Snell taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning, kept the Dodgers-partisan crowd of 11,472 mostly subdued until L.A. stirred midway through the game.
This was so Rays. Lowe, one of the AL’s most lethal hitters during the regular season, entered Game 2 hitting .107 (6-for-56) this postseason with 19 strikeouts. And after not registering an opposite-field homer all year, Lowe blasted two in that direction, the Gonsolin shot in the first inning before victimizing Dustin May in the fifth. Despite Lowe’s struggles, manager Kevin Cash faithfully stuck with him in the No. 2 spot, and that loyalty was rewarded Wednesday night.
"Oh man, it’s definitely a confidence boost," said Lowe, who hit 14 homers with 37 RBIs in 56 regular-season games. "When my confidence was wavering, when I wasn't feeling too great mentally, [Cash] was right there, every single day, saying, you’re getting get two hits today, you're gonna do something to change the game in our favor. It’s really nice to have somebody there, especially the manager."
After Clayton Kershaw led the Dodgers to a convincing 8-3 victory in Tuesday’s Game 1, it felt like the coronation already had begun. Mookie Betts, L.A.’s $365 million man, ran circles around the Rays as many were too ready to believe that Tampa Bay was nearing the end of its tiny-market success story.
But Lowe’s first-inning homer soon dented that narrative, and Snell put the brakes on the Dodgers’ momentum by striking out eight through four no-hit innings, becoming only the second pitcher in World Series history to do so. The other was Sandy Koufax, who whiffed nine without allowing a hit over four innings in Game 1 of the 1963 Fall Classic.
Snell’s wicked slider, combined with a nasty curveball, helped him get 11 misses on 24 swings through those first four innings. But after his ninth K in the fifth, Snell walked Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor smacked a two-run homer that trimmed the Rays’ lead to 5-2. After another walk and single got him to 88 pitches, Snell’s mastery dissolved into a hasty exit.
"I’m not going to get mad at Cash," Snell said. "He's got to manage, I got to play, but I know I have to do things better. I have to make it harder for them to come out to pull me. I made it easy. You can't blame him for that — he's trying to win a World Series game."
In Rays World, however, Snell did a perfectly fine job, because Cash had his "stable" of top relievers well-rested for Game 2, starting with the versatile stopper Nick Anderson, perhaps the best bullpen weapon in the game right now. Anderson brings to mind 2016 Andrew Miller, who was used in a variety of high-leverage playoff spots by the Indians, and Cash needed him to extinguish the Dodgers’ biggest threat with two outs in the fifth. Anderson did just that — whiffing Justin Turner — then got through the sixth, the only blemish coming on Will Smith’s solo homer.
"I don't have a name for him — just come in and be good, be Nick," Cash said of Anderson’s amorphous role. "He's been as good as any reliever in baseball from the day that we acquired him. And when the game's on the line, we're going to go to him. The stuff is dominant, but he does so many things really, really well. He's efficient, he controls the running game as good as any reliever. Nick is invaluable to us. I'll let you come up with the name."
The Rays’ pitching staff is the primary reason why they’re in the World Series, but with Lowe’s two home runs, they now have the record for the most homers (28) in a single postseason. Lowe also became the sixth second baseman with a multi-homer game in the World Series, joining Chase Utley (twice in 2009), Jeff Kent (2002), Davey Lopes (1978), Charlie Neal (1959) and Tony Lazzeri (1932). Joey Wendle delivered the other three RBIs as the Rays derailed the Dodgers’ hype train — at least until the series resumes with Friday’s Game 3.
"I don't think that anybody in our clubhouse thought this series was over," Lowe said. "It was one game and they had a future Hall of Famer on the mound. We just had to show up and take care of business. We came out there [Wednesday] and played our game."
As we know by now, nobody does Rays’ baseball better than the Rays.