This is not the way we wanted this to end. For so much magic, so many improbable moments, for all the things that didn’t seem possible that the Rays were able to accomplish, 2020 felt like maybe all the weird would lead to a Rays hoisting the most prized “hunk of metal” in baseball.
Alas, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the best team in baseball, played like the best team in baseball and won the World Series over the Rays in Game 6.
There’s going to be a LOT of discussion about this game, about Kevin Cash’s choice to turn to The Stable over Snellzilla, about the offense, about the Stable itself, about missed opportunities. At the end of the day, these were the two best teams in baseball locked in a very close contest, and the Dodgers were just a bit better.
Looking at the stats for this series it really shouldn’t have been as close as it was. The Dodgers out hit the Rays, they out pitched the Rays, they made more defensive plays than the Rays. But the Rays, OUR Rays, are pesky and good. And despite everything, they pushed the Dodgers to the brink, in Game 6 and in this series as a whole. And I couldn’t be more proud of this team for all they accomplished and all the fight they had.
Let’s get into the big moments of Game 6
Blake Snell, in the biggest game of his life, delivered for the Tampa Bay Rays. He took on the vaunted Dodgers lineup and carved them up. Snell had all four of his pitches working. Perhaps the most important stat about Snell’s night was Dodgers top 3 in their lineup went a combined 0-6 with 6 Ks vs Blake.
Snell on the night struck out 9 Dodgers and just 2 hits with no walks. He kept the Dodgers off balance, working north and south, east and west, and owning all sides of the plate. With the Rays offense mostly shut down by the Dodgers bullpen day, and holding a narrow 1-0 lead, Snell needed to be perfect to give the Rays any chance. And he damn near was.
Enjoy nearly 3 minutes of Blake Snell domination:
So, we gotta talk about it. The biggest call in the game, the thing that has and will fuel sports talk, tweets, and countless takes of the hot to blazing variety. Blake Snell, pitching into the 6th, after giving up a sharp single to 9 hole hitter Austin Barnes, is set to face Mookie Betts and the top of the Dodgers lineup for a 3rd time.
The Rays won the American League Pennant, won the second best record in all of baseball, through an unwavering commitment to a process, to smart strategy, to trusting their process to put their players in the best possible chance to succeed and to win. They rode the Stable to amazing success and to be in the position to be 11 outs away from forcing a game 7.
So Kevin Cash did what should not come as a shock for long time Rays fans: he went to turn to the most trusted arm in the 2020 Rays pen Nick Anderson, and pull Blake Snell before he has a chance to give up the big hit to give away the narrow lead. That’s the framing for the strategy and the process.
Now here comes the debate: should this time, this one time, Kevin Cash not trust his gut and instead roll the dice and trust the results Snell had gotten so far? And that’s right, I said trust his gut. We heard a lot on the broadcast and on Twitter that this is one time to trust your gut as a manager and not “the analytics”. But that’s frankly BS. Trusting your process and “analytics” is a gut instinct. It’s what you believe deep down inside is the correct choice, despite all the emotions maybe trying to tell you otherwise.
It’s the gut call that tells Cash he wasn’t going to take the easy choice of leaving Snell in to face Mookie and Seager with a 1 run lead. It’s an easy choice because Snell was shoving and nobody would blame you if Snell gives up the long ball there to Mookie, or Seager or Turner if anybody else got on. That’s easy because you can go to the postgame press conference and say, “well I trusted Blake”. It’s not Cash’s fault. But he would know, deep down, that he knew it wasn’t the best process. He would know that he wasn’t trusting his gut and brain that got the Rays to so much success in 2020. It would be going against the choices that got the Rays to within 2 wins of beating one of the most complete and dominate teams assembled in recent baseball history.
And this is a choice that Kevin Cash knows will be debated and discussed. As it should be. But as Blake Snell said after the game: if Anderson would have gotten it done, nobody would be talking about it now.
#Rays Snell said Cash "is usually right,'' that there is no reason to point fingers, that if Anderson would have gotten out of it "no one would be talking about it.''— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) October 28, 2020
We are in a world where the results are what matter, and no matter what your process is, it’s better to have the results. And on the game, this is gonna be the choice that, much like the Oakland A’s losing during the “Moneyball” era, it will be used as a cudgel to attack analytics. And that’s a shame.
Especially because the Dodgers won Game 5 by doing this exact same move! In the 6th, Dave Roberts pulled Clayton Kershaw, future Hall of Fame and former Cy Young pitcher, after he got two outs on two pitches, fully in his grove, and just at 85 pitches. He did that to turn it over to Dustin May, who while dominant in the regular season has struggled in the regular season. The Rays were not able to capitalize on that choice in Game 5, and the Dodgers were in Game 6.
Nick Anderson has not been the Nick Anderson we all trust for this entire World Series. He has struggled at times to get whiffs, he has given up some loud contact, and he has been bitten by the BABIP dragon. Tonight he took over for Blake Snell to face Mookie Betts with 1 out and 1 on. He gave up a sharp but not extremely hard groundball down the line past the diving Wendle for a double. Now immediately into the fire, the tying run 90 ft away, and the go ahead run just behind him.
Anderson would give up the run in the most brutally deflating way possible. Not with a hard hit, not with a sharp single by Corey Seager (World Series MVP), but on a wild pitch.
Mike Zunino has done such an amazing job behind the dish blocking a array of spiked sliders and curves, including quite a few from Snell himself. But this one was just a bit too spiked and glances off his glove to allow both runners to advance. The lead is gone, and with any contact Mookie would take the lead. Anderson would induce Seager to ground out weakly to Choi at 1B but it was enough for Betts to get home before the tag.
Nick Anderson has allowed at least 1 run in 7 straight relief appearances, the longest such streak in postseason history (including streaks that spanned postseasons)— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) October 28, 2020
I’m a coward to media criticism, so I would probably have left Snell in there. However Kevin Cash doesn’t give a damn if some folks on WDAE and Twitter dunk on him. He’s gonna do what he feels is best to get the Rays wins. I actually believe that pulling Snell before the lineup turned over is a bold, risky, but ultimately correct call. However, who you go to after Snell is another debate and one that I actually think Cash made the wrong call on.
Nick Anderson is not as bad as his results have been this postseason. He has definitely been wearing down, but even an 80% Nick Anderson is better than the majority of bullpen arms in baseball. However, with a runner on, and the most daunting part of the Dodgers lineup to come, I think you go with a different horse from the Stable. My personal choice would be Pete Fairbanks, however later in the game we got to see what Fairbanks vs Betts looked like and, well:
See, what do I know?!
Anyway Diego Castillo or Fairbanks are probably a safer choice for that extremely high leverage situation. If the Rays were going to win the World Series though, they were going to need Nick Anderson to perform in probably both Game 6 and a Game 7. But I do think starting him with a clean inning could have been the better situation.
Arozarena and the non-Randys
The biggest reason the Rays lost this game, and ultimately this series: the offense did not show up. Most of the discussion from this game will be about Snell and the hook and Anderson, but if you can only score 1 run vs the Dodgers non Buehler and Kershaw pitchers, and just 3 runs in both Games 5 and 6 total, you are asking a hell of a lot for Snell and the Stable to do vs these Dodgers hitters.
The one man who consistently showed up and balled out: Randy Arozarena
Randy Arozarena already had the HR record for most ding dong johnsons in a single Postseason, and he got to extend that to a nice round 10 with his 1st inning bomb.
Randy Arozarena now has 10 career postseason home runs (all this postseason)— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) October 28, 2020
That's the most by any Rays player in a postseason CAREER
For the non Randy’s in the lineup though: 3-28 1 BB 15 Ks
To give all due credit, Dave Roberts and the Dodgers did a tremendous job with a bullpen day. Roberts did not allow any Rays hitters to get a good matchup, or face a Dodgers reliever for a second time all game.
The Rays had a few chances to add some runs and really put the pressure on the Dodgers and off of Snell and the Rays pitchers. In the 1st after the Arzoarena HR, Austin Meadows emerged from the Milk Carton Missing photo with a very sharp single to RF. Brandon Lowe worked a tremendous at bat for the walk to give the Rays 2 on with 1 out. Margot and Wendle would not be able to get the big hit and left two on.
In the 2nd, Kevin Kiermaier hit a laser double, Ji-Man Choi (the heaviest leadoff hitter in postseason history) worked another tremendous walk. Immediately Dave Roberts got out and pulled “starter” Tony Gonsolin for former Ray Dylan Floro, to face Randy Arozarena. Floro threw three incredible pitches to get Randy striking out, finishing with back to back perfect change-ups.
The Rays would not get another player past 1st the rest of the game.
The Rays could not get their slumping bats going. They could not get the big hit. They could not generate enough offense for the pitching to secure the win. Game 5 and Game 6 were both there for the taking with just a few big hits, and that probably hurts the most.
This loss, both in Game 6 and in the World Series will hurt. It hurts me. It frustrates me. However, I just cannot be fully mad. I am not angry or bitter. I don’t feel like breaking something or throwing my phone. I feel oddly calm. I feel incredibly proud. This team came close. They took the best team in baseball to the limit, and they proved that they belonged on that stage.
There will be missed opportunities to talk about, tough choices, certainly plenty of debates to be had this offseason. You don’t come this close without feeling like you could get just a bit further. But please, I ask to not let the pain and the hurt overwhelm the joy and good. This Rays team will live on for me as truly one of the most special teams, and most special seasons I have ever had the privilege of experiencing.
The Tampa Bay Rays played 80 total games out of a statistically maximum 82. That means Rays fans got to watch this fun team more than any other team in baseball. We got to watch our team play and succeed. We got two amazing all time classic do or die series wins in ALDS Game 5 (Brosseau’s Revenge) and ALCS Game 7 (Big Game Chuck’s masterpiece). We got to watch an all time classic World Series game and come out the other side with the victory in Game 4 (still need a name for this one).
This season may have ended just short of the ultimate goal. The Rays didn’t win the last game of the season. But to paraphrase Churchill: this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. It is the end of the beginning.