It felt straight nostalgic to watch the Rays roll out an Opener again to stifle a vaunted offense. Of course today it was more the bullpen day model than the Opener to Bulk guy strategy.
With Yonny Chirinos going to the IL, the Rays had to adjust who would toe the rubber vs the Yankees in the second game of the doubleheader. But when it comes to Rays baseball, adaptation is not a scary thing.
The Rays called upon one of the leagues best bullpen to quiet Aaron Judge and the rest of the Yankees bats who had put up an 8 spot on the team in game 1. First out of the gate to open the bullpen day was Ryan Thompson.
The funky side-arm right hander was pounding the zone and getting the Yankees to pummel the Trop infield with grounders. 5 of the 6 outs Thompson recorded came on the ground ball.
When it comes to the new 7 inning double header rule, an Opener shutting down the top of the order for 6 outs is even more important. Big gold star on Ryan Thompsons day coming through huge and shortening an already short game.
Kevin Cash gets aggressive
The big rally would begin like all of the Rays offense did on this night with a walk. Yankee pitching on the night gave up a total of 9 (!) walks, an absolute tall drink of water in the desert for the Rays offense.
With two outs in the bottom of the 4th, Willy Adames and Kevin Keirmaier would keep the bat on their shoulders and get their free passes to 1st. That’s when Kevin Cash got to start his fun.
Yankees called upon LHP Luis Avilan to face LHH Michael Perez. When your offense has struggled, sometimes you need to press your luck to create some luck, and that’s exactly what Kevin Cash did.
Yandy Diaz got the call to PH to face off against the lefty, and worked a very gutsy walk to load the bases and get Austin Meadows to the plate. And finally, the Rays came through with a big, clutch hit (of course with a sprinkle of luck as well)
After Meadows, seeing a chance that maybe this is the best opportunity the Rays would have, and with the 4th inning being closer to the 6th inning in a regular game, Cash made another PH call. This time it was Hunter Renfroe for Brandon Lowe to get another lefty masher up to face Avilian who had to stay in with the 3 batter minimum rule.
Renfroe worked a walk to load up the bases again for yet another lefty masher Jose Martinez. Martinez would reached for a pitch after a very questionable outside the zone strike call, but the process that lead to this at bat was quite fascinating to me.
Kevin Cash is a modern manager through and through, and he adapted to two new rule changes and his team’s flexibility to make multiple moves to set up two bases loaded situations and give his team three at bats where Rays hitters had a huge splits advantage. The process was great, the results were fine, and that’s how you earn some good luck for once.
The Rays would take advantage of more Yankees free passes, and new catcher Kevan Smith would hit a two out rocket that Gio Urshella at 3rd would whiff on leading to two more runs. Urshella would get an error, which is silly because errors are a silly stat and shouldn’t be taken seriously.
This allowed the Rays to go to Jalen Beeks to try and get the final 6 outs of the game. For as good as Beeks has been this year, facing the righty heavy Yankees would be a huge test.
Quickly, Beeks was in trouble, giving up a leadoff single and a walk to Judge and Hicks respectfully. After falling behind 3-1 to Mike Ford, Beeks came through with two of the best pitches he has thrown all season, dotting two extremely close pitches that got called strikes 2 and 3.
Beeks would then induce a massive double play from Torres to escape the inning.
Hoping to avoid having to throw Anderson two days in a row, Beeks got the call in the 7th to finish it off. Beeks gave up a single but then came right back to get a huge double play which would prove to be the difference. After that double play, the Yankees made the cardboard cutouts in the stands sweat a bit with a single, double, single to bring the tying run to the plate in the form of Aaron “very tall man” Judge. Nick Anderson would not get the night off afterall.
2 outs, 1 runner on, Judge vs Nick Anderson. That’s a heavyweight MLB moment.
Nick Anderson has a terrific fastball and he likes to work it high. Aaron Judge is 9 ft tall and swings a Sequoia he whittled down to create a bat, and can absolutely send high fastballs through the Trop dome roof. With a full count, Anderson brought the heater and challenged Judge to beat him.
A half inch off the barrel and Anderson wins this duel. Rays win.
One of the early threats the Yankees were able to mount came against a wild Pete Fairbanks. After a walk, a wild pitch, and a base hit, the Yankees had runners at 1st and 3rd with just 1 out. Fairbanks worked Voit in, trying to get the pull heavy righty to, well, pull heavy to the right. Voit was able to avoid that, punch a sharp single the opposite way.
In what could have spiraled out of control quickly, a very slick throw from the Outlaw and even niftier tag from Wendle nailed Torres trying to take the extra base. Fairbanks K’d Mike Tauchman looking to end the inning and the Yankees early threat.
Stat of the Game: 5 defensive switches/subs in the 5th
When Kevin Cash got aggressive pinch hitting and getting the Rays best hitters into position to break the game open, it left him with some choices in how to play out the rest of the game defensively. The Rays emphasis on flexibility and position versatility plays up in exactly these moments.
Here’s the list of defensive switches and subs Cash made for the top half of the 5th inning:
Hunter Renfroe > RF
Austin Meadows RF > LF
Yoshi Tsutstugo LF > 3B
Joey Wendle 3B > 2B
Kevan Smith > C
Having players be able to shift all over allows Cash to call on pinch hitters at will, and move his chess pieces around the board like a child learning chess for the first time.