by Julian Spivey
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher and 2018 American League Cy Young winner Blake Snell had the best offensive team in Major League Baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers, looking like single-A minor leaguers facing off against Sandy Koufax or Bob Gibson or Madison Bumgarner in some of the greatest World Series pitching performances we’ve ever seen on Tuesday night in game six of the 2020 World Series.
Rays left fielder Randy Arozarena, who had the greatest offensive postseason in the history of Major League Baseball this year, had given the Rays a 1-0 lead in the first inning with a solo home run off Dodgers pitcher Tony Gonsolin. The way Snell was pitching it looked like one run might be enough for the Rays to force a do-or-die game seven against the Dodgers.
The Dodgers could barely even make contact with Snell’s pitches. Through five innings they’d mustered one Chris Taylor single against him and had struck out nine times against. The top four hitters in today’s best offense: Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Max Muncy had gone 0-for-8 against him the first two times through the order and struck out seven times with the only remote contact being a weak dribbler to first by Muncy in the second inning.
Snell had the Dodgers number.
Yet when Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes hit a single with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning off Snell Rays manager Kevin Cash, seemingly always playing the numbers game, decided to remove Snell for reliever Nick Anderson, who had allowed runs to score in five straight appearances before the game. This was despite the fact that the Barnes single wasn’t hard contact and Snell’s pitch count was only 73 and the top of the Dodgers order he’d dominated all night was coming up.
It’s a decision that immediately infuriated me and I just had an intuition as to what was about to happen. But it seemed almost anybody who’s watched the game the majority of their life and those who played the game like Hall of Famer John Smoltz who was announcing the game for Fox Sports and Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz, who did postgame coverage for Fox Sports, knew what was going to happen too.
This is Cash’s M.O. It’s how he manages the game. Using analytics and numbers and most of the time it works out. But it doesn’t take a degree from an Ivy League school to know that you don’t take out your hot hand and go to another one who’s been struggling when your entire season is on the line.
I knew it. Smoltz, Rodriguez, Ortiz and probably millions of folks watching at home knew it.
Anderson came in and immediately gave up a hard hit double down the line to Mookie Betts, who Snell had made look more like Spike Lee’s Mookie from “Do the Right Thing” in his first two at-bats. When Seager came up to the plate with his series leading batting average he didn’t even have to swing his bat for the Dodgers to tie the game up as Anderson threw a wild pitch allowing Taylor to score from third and Betts to go from second to third. The wild pitch moving Betts 90 feet from the plate made it a 2-1 game when Seager hit a grounder to Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi, who threw to catcher Mike Zunino but was unable to beat Betts to the plate. Those two runs would be all the Dodgers would need to clinch their first World Series title in 32 years, though Betts would give them some insurance in the ninth with a blast of a solo shot.
The Rays offense hadn’t exactly looked like a Murderer’s Row the entire game or series for that matter, but Cash’s decision to remove Snell for Anderson and then Anderson giving up the lead truly seemed to demoralize the team. I can’t imagine what it did to the Rays fan-base. The six World Series games were the only six Rays games I caught all season, but it still infuriated me as a fan of the game of baseball.
This just seems to be the way the game is headed – forget what you can see with your own eyes and your own intuition and just go with what it says on paper or on a tablet. Maybe it works most of the time? But it damn sure didn’t on Tuesday on the game’s biggest stage.
It’s something that just confuses veterans of the game to no end, as well.
Immediately following Cash’s decision to remove Snell from the game longtime Star Tribune sports writer Patrick Reusse in Minneapolis phoned hall of fame pitcher Jack Morris, who’s 10-inning shutout performance for the Minnesota Twins against the Atlanta Braves in game seven of the 1991 World Series might be the greatest pitching performance in baseball history given the scenario.
Reusse asked Morris what he thought about the managerial decision, to which Morris said, “We keep seeing it. But taking out a guy who already had struck out Mookie twice … this was unbelievable for me.”
Reusse asked Morris: “What if your manager came to mound to hook you mid-inning as Cash did Snell?” Morris responded: “I don’t know what would’ve happed. It wouldn’t have been good. It might’ve been real bad.”
There’s no way of telling what was going to happen if Snell has stayed in the ballgame in the sixth. For all we know Betts may have taken him deep in the very next AB had he not been removed, but it’s a shot Snell had earned and his manager should’ve had more faith in his player than in his pre-determined strategy.
Cash’s decision to take the on fire Snell out of the ball game when the Dodgers hadn’t even sniffed a run off him the entire game is the worst World Series managerial decision I’ve ever seen in a quarter-century of watching baseball.