SEATTLE — Kevin Cash didn’t care.
Didn’t care how surprised and “a little angry” Ryan Yarbrough was, his reaction clear as he walked off the mound with a headshake, eye roll and a few choice words screamed into his glove after being lifted Sunday one out from throwing a complete game.
Cash didn’t care how the other Rays players would see it, or what people around the game, reporters or fans thought or might say.
Didn’t care about the history, that it would’ve been the Rays’ first complete game in more than three years. Didn’t care about the prestige, what it would’ve meant to Yarbrough, who had the best outing of his career.
Not. At. All.
If you were wondering, were screaming at your TV, were pounding out tweets or emails, just what was Cash thinking, it was simply this:
Converting the 1-0 lead his Rays held over the Mariners into a win.
And he felt the best way to do that, all sentimentality and emotions be damned, was to take out the soft-tossing lefty Yarbrough, because the better matchup was to have righty reliever Emilio Pagan face right-handed Seattle slugger Domingo Santana.
“Very difficult decision, obviously, given what Yarbs provided for us,’’ Cash said, “but felt like that was the best to give us the best chance to win.”
That it worked, as the Mariners pinch-hit lefty Omar Narvaez and Pagan got him to ground out, made for a happy ending as the Rays completed a three-game sweep and improved to a season-high 19 games over .500 at 69-50, maintaining their 1½-game lead over Oakland for the second AL wild-card spot and remaining 2½ back of the first.
But that didn’t make it less of a story, as Cash insisted.
Yarbrough had been sensational in is first game against his former Mariners mates, scattering three hits and striking out eight without a walk. His effectiveness was rivaled only by his efficiency, getting through the eighth with only 89 pitches.
He had noticed the Rays had reliever Oliver Drake warming but didn’t let it change his focus. When he came back to the dugout after that inning, Cash greeted him enthusiastically.
“He was like, ‘All right! All right! Keep going,’ ” Yarbrough said. “I was extremely ecstatic about that. I just wanted to go back out there and finish the game.’’
Yarbrough wasn’t aware of the specifics, that the Rays hadn’t thrown a complete game since Matt Andriese on May 14, 2016, and that it had been an MLB-record 570 games since. Or that they had had only one starter even work into the ninth in that span: Alex Cobb on July 21, 2017, against Texas.
What he knew was the chance to throw a complete game in the majors, especially for the Rays, was special.
But Cash had a secret. He had decided that no matter what, Yarbrough would go no further than the first two hitters. That he would not face Santana, whose 21 homers made him a threat to tie it on one swing, though less so given his recent struggles — a .149 average, three homers and 36 strikeouts in 22 games.
Yarbrough got the first two out. His back was to the Rays dugout, waiting to get the ball, when he noticed shortstop Willy Adames walking toward him, a sign, along with boos from some fans, that Cash was on his way out to get him.
“Little surprised,’’ Yarbrough said, “especially when you get two outs and kind of see the finish line a little bit and get real excited about it. … Obviously a little angry. But at the same time I think he would want me to be. … I don’t think I have any ill will about it or anything.’’
All across T-Mobile Park, Rays masked their reaction and went along with the boss’ controversial call. Catcher Mike Zunino, who raved about what Yarbrough was throwing and how he threw, said the decision was “above my pay grade.’’ Pagan said he was “a little” surprised but added, “I don’t make those decisions. My job is to be ready. If I dwell too much on “maybe we should’ve left him” and if I give up the run, then it’s even worse.’’
Pitching coach Kyle Snyder was most in the middle.
“It’s tough,’’ he said. “You work alongside these (pitchers) and you want them to be able to complete something as special as that. But at the end of the day it’s about winning the game. There’s a lot that goes into a lot of the decisions that we make. Ryan did an outstanding job. … We all have all the confidence in the world he could have gotten that out, but I think it was the right decision.’’
Cash certainly felt that way and wasn’t concerned that there would be any backlash among the players.
“I certainly hope not,’’ he said. “We’re in a spot where we’ve got to win games. We’re going to stay consistent with the decisions that have gotten us to this point. Those guys are really good in the clubhouse. Obviously they want the best for their teammates and I certainly do, too. But liked the matchup that we got.”
Yarbrough, cooled off a bit in the clubhouse, admitted he wasn’t really that shocked:
“I don’t think with how we kind of go about things that anything surprises us anymore. But at the same time you obviously want to finish a ball game.’’
That didn’t seem too much to ask.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.