Right now, as you sit here and read this, a war is being raged in baseball. It’s not a loud war, and it’s not all that dangerous. But it is a war that strangles the game and has come to define it. It’s a war that the Rays, like some Revolutionary War turncoat, have found themselves on both sides of from time to time. This offseason, of all times, the Rays defected, switching sides. This wasn’t really by choice. Much of it came as a result of their realistic financial circumstances. Increasingly, this war is becoming a class war, with the heavy hitters and big franchises on one side of the field. Tonight, the Rays were on the losing side of the battle, and this year the tide is turning against them. You can feel it, if you sit down and really think about it for a while.
This is a war of small ball vs. the long ball.
This sort of thing has been going on for decades in the MLB. You can hear old veterans of the war talk about it in condenceding tones whenever they rant on Twitter about how “the game was better back then” and “the game isn’t being played the right way.” At the cores of these complaints lie a fundamental chance in how the game is played. It ebbs and flows. And at this point, the “long ball” side is winning.
Last year was a breakout year for the long ball and her cousin, the strikeout. Last year Logan Morrison hit nearly 40 home runs. This was the surest sign of how the field was laid out. And this year, after playing on the long ball team last year, the Rays now find themselves on the side of the small ball. While players like C.J. Cron and Wilson Ramos certainly have plenty of pop, and have collected their fair share of home runs, the bulk of the Rays’ offense is built upon stringing together an inning off of timely hits and getting the man in from scoring position. This is just the way of the world.
So coming to New York, and playing a team built on the long ball (their nickname is the Baby Bombers, after all) is about as emblematic of the differences in the approach to the game as you can fundamentally get.
And this game played out, offensively much like you’d expect. The Rays chipped and scratched at the scoreboard, putting up single runs in innings to build a lead. The Yankees, in one fell swoop, took away that lead on a big ol’ home run by an exciting young rookie, to erase a lead and hold a win. This was one of the more expected games you can see from these teams.
That’s not to say that it was boring, however. Any game whose first pitch ends up in the stands for a leadoff home run can’t really be called boring. And it definitely didn’t help that Blake Snell, for much of the game, seemed to be flirting with disaster. Until it finally happened. Snell looked great, and his pitches were tight and fantastic. But Snell walked too many Yankees for his own good, pushing up his pitch count into the fifth inning when all the dominoes finally fell. That Snell collected 8 strikeouts in five innings should be testament enough to how good his stuff is.
Perhaps the day would have been different had the Rays not continued their maddening streak of making outs on the basepaths. Matt Duffy was thrown out at home in the third inning, trying to turn a one-run inning into a two-run inning. Perhaps Matt Duffy should have remembered what team his plays for, and how this team must play in order to be successful. While Duffy’s play was at least a bit close, Carlos Gomez’s baserunning blunder was a real kick in the teeth. Gomez’s one-out double put some spark back into the game. But Gomez inexplicabaly tried to steal third base off of Gary Sanchez. Sanchez might not be a great defensive catcher, but the dude has an arm. Gomez was caught stealing easily, and the Rays lost their last runner in scoring position.
That wouldn’t have hurt as much, had Joey Wendle not tightened the deficit to one in the sixth inning on an RBI single. Wendle stole second, but was stranded there by Willy Adames. This final inning made the score 4-3 Yankees, and nothing would change from there. Vidal Nuno relieved Snell, and pitched three one-hit, shutout innings in relief. But the Rays couldn’t crack the vaunted Yankees bullpen, and were stymied by the end of the game.
The Rays will beat the Yankees at some point, but it’s disheartening to see how predictable and expected this outcome was. If the Rays want to be successful beyond this year, they’ll have to move past the one-run inning, into something special.