The Dodgers and Rays played spin-the-reliever Wednesday night, the new gaming craze that suits some teams more than others.
Tampa Bay’s more orderly pitching procession was superior to the Dodgers’ grab-bag approach. That, along with an awakened Tampa Bay offense, evened the World Series with a 6-4 Rays’ victory.
Once upon a time, relief pitchers were used to lift the burden off the starters. Like so much else in baseball, that process has somersaulted.
Tampa Bay pushed young Tyler Glasnow, from Hart High, to 112 pitches in Game 1 Tuesday night because the Rays needed to keep their thunderous bullpen fresh and healthy.
“That turned out to be huge,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers had seized a 1-0 World Series lead with Clayton Kershaw starting. They turned the Game 2 pitching duties to their community theater.
Tony Gonsolin faced six Tampa Bay hitters, got four of them out, gave up a homer to Brandon Lowe, and hit the bricks.
By the time the Dodgers retired two Rays in the fourth inning, it was time to go get Dustin May, who has a 2.87 ERA in 14 career starts.
May had been L.A.’s “opener” in Game 7 of the NLCS vs. Atlanta Sunday night. He came into this one trailing 1-0.
Manuel Margot drilled a single through the open right side of the infield. Then Joey Wendle turned a 92 mph cut fastball into a 2-run double, one that had May agonizing almost as soon as he threw it. In the fifth, May gave up a 2-out single by Austin Meadows, and Brandon Lowe, who had taken Gonsolin deep in the first inning, drilled an 86 mph 0-and-2 slider into the leftfield seats.
Joe Kelly, who in more traditional times would be sheathed until the seventh or eighth innings, gave up a sixth-inning run after the Dodgers had sliced the lead to 5-2.
Potluck bullpens were pioneered by the Rays, when they popularized the concept of the “opener.” Ryne Stanek, Ryan Yarbrough and Sergio Romo would take over the first inning and then Cash would play matchup games the rest of the way.
Long-term, it’s not a bad idea if it replaces unqualified fifth starters who soak up lots of money. But in a series against the same team, it exposes relievers and creates the type of familiarity that paid off for Washington when it ambushed well-worn Houston reliever Will Harris in Game 7 of last year’s World Series.
Ironically, Tampa Bay is as comfortable with its starters as the Dodgers are at this point. The Rays have Glasnow, Blake Snell and Charlie Morton. The Dodgers have Kershaw, Game 3 starter Walker Buehler, and Julio Urias, who was dominant in the final three innings of NLCS Game 7.
The circumstances didn’t call for Urias to pitch in Game 2, so one can assume, perhaps dangerously, that he will start Game 4. That would figure to place him against Tampa Bay’s “opener.”
The Rays bullpen is accustomed to herd productivity. Nick Anderson walked into Game 2 with two out in the fifth and struck out Justin Turner with two men on. Anderson throws in the high 90s, but Peter Fairbanks, who followed him, rushes it up there even faster.
Fairbanks had a clean seventh inning, but Corey Seager launched his seventh postseason home run to lead off the seventh, and the Dodgers crept to within 6-4. A bloop double by Justin Turner preceded the ever-clutch Max Muncy, who just missed a mid-plate breaking ball and flied out to right.
When Will Smith’s scalding drive nearly knocked down Wendle at third but stayed in his glove, Fairbanks left in favor of lefty Aaron Loup, who struck out Cody Bellinger looking in the eighth, got two out in the eighth. Loup left the microphone to Diego Castillo, who dismissed Chris Taylor in three pitches.
Fairbanks was a ninth-round draft pick from the University of Missouri who had two Tommy John surgeries before he reached that point. He also made a 34 on his ACT and still says he’ll return to Mizzou for his mechanical engineering degree.
Anderson was booted out of St. Cloud State for his involvement in a bar brawl. Marooned and crestfallen, he gave up drinking and began pitching for town ball and independent teams in the Minneapolis area. Somebody called somebody, and he wound up at Mayville State in North Dakota, an NAIA baseball powerhouse, and from there he signed with the Twins, who sent him to Miami, who sent him to Tampa Bay.
It’s a strange new game, but the Rays have gotten to two consecutive postseasons playing it.