Nick Anderson did exactly what the Rays have come to expect from him in the 2019 Wild Card Game, and that is simply to strike out anyone on the opposing team who dared step up to the plate.
After warming up several times over the course of the elimination game on Wednesday, with ESPN quipping that Anderson had already thrown a complete game the fourth time he stood up in the bullpen, Kevin Cash finally called upon Anderson as the Rays entered the bottom of the eighth inning, entrusting him to maintain the team’s 5-1 lead as they looked to advance to the American League Division Series.
Anderson has a simple two pitch mix — a high 90’s fastball and a curveball in the low 80’s, he slightly prefers the fastball over his curve, throwing it 60% of the time in 2019.
Both of the pitches are delivered from the exact same arm slot to make it nearly impossible for hitters to perceive the pitch, that is until it’s already on top of them.
Anderson started his night allowing a leadoff single to Matt Olson — mulligan — Anderson resumed his dominance.
He spiked a first pitch curveball to Mark Cahna that Travis d’Arnaud was able to smother to keep Olson at first base. Anderson then got in the strikezone with the next pitch, a center cut fastball that was taken and then got ahead with a perfectly placed fastball that caught the upper right corner of the strike zone; Canha tried to hold up on his swing, but it was called a strike regardless to make it 1-2.
Anderson then pulled out his curve once again, dropping it at the top of the zone getting the called third strike devastatingly buckling Canha’s knees in the process for the first out of the inning.
Jurickson Profar was then up, whom the Athletics actually acquired as part of a three team trade with the Rays back in December. Anderson would feed him a healthy diet of high velocity, getting squeezed by the home plate umpire on the first two pitches to fall behind 3-0.
Undeterred, Anderson caught the upper edge of the zone with another fastball and then the next pitch was yet another fastball that enticed a swing from Profar as he fouled it straight back to bring the count full. So much for 60-40 splits.
Anderson goes with a sixth straight fastball against Profar, moving up the zone.
Profar geared up and unleashed a mighty swing, but was under the pitch as well as late, missing completely for strike three, two away in the 8th for Anderson.
After the steady diet of fastballs to Profar, it was only fitting that Anderson greeted Khris Davis with a first pitch curve at the bottom of the zone that elicited a foul ball. Then, another curve, this time buckling Davis’ knees as he watch the ball float right down the middle for strike two.
Going for the strikeout, Anderson dropped in another curveball but Davis was able to lay off at the pitch descended well below the zone for a ball, 1-2.
Attempting to end the at-bat with the same pitch that buckled Canha, Anderson just missed the top of the zone to even the count. Apparently tired of the breaking ball not working, Anderson blisters a fastball through the outside quadrant of the zone, pasting a swinging Davis for the final out of the inning, ending the Athletics threat.
Surprisingly, Kevin Cash sent Anderson back out to the mound to start the ninth inning against Robbie Grossman. Three high 90’s fastballs later and Grossman was down in the count against Anderson, 1-2.
It should be noted that during the regular season, players who fell down 1-2 against Anderson, wound up striking out nearly 60% of the time. Grossman battled, fouling off a tough inside fastball to remain alive.
Then, Anderson just became unfair as he unleashed his devestating curveball, elicting a very weak and off balanced swing from Grossman for the final out of Anderson’s four strikeout performance.
Emilio Pagan came on and retired the final two hitters, but it was Anderson who gets my vote for the most dominant Rays reliever of the night.