SAN DIEGO — The path, especially through the pandemic-delayed and abbreviated regular season and the first four games of the playoff series, has been significantly different. The uniforms are changed, as are many of the names and faces.
Yet here the Rays are, in an eerily similar spot to last year, having to face Gerrit Cole in the fifth and final game of the American League Division Series.
Last year, Cole was pitching for the Astros, and he ended Tampa Bay’s season. Friday night, he’ll be pitching for the Yankees, and the Rays will see if they can return the favor. Whoever wins, in an additional plot twist, goes on to face the Astros in the AL Championship Series.
The Rays could have avoided all this drama, but a 5-1 loss to the Yankees on Thursday forced them back into this position, with their season of grand expectations on the line.
“It’s going to be intense,” Rays shortstop Willy Adames said. “It’s going to be fun. It’s a do-or-die. Win or go home. We don’t want to go home. So we’re going to come with our best. We’re going to do our best to continue to play. We’ve got to win the game.”
The parallels to last year’s game in Houston increased when the Rays made it a rematch of starters from 2019 by deciding to give the ball to Tyler Glasnow. Last year, Glasnow had the issue with pitch-tipping. The question this time will be how long he can go, given that he’ll be working on two days' rest after throwing 93 pitches over five innings Tuesday in the Game 2 win.
“I’ll be fine,” Glasnow said. “As far as health goes, I feel really good. I’m ready to go. Recovery-wise, I feel good, feel great. I was in the pen (Thursday), ready to come out.”
The Rays should have just about every other pitcher available as well, including lefty Blake Snell, who they also considered for the start.
Cole presents many challenges, though the Rays have the benefit of more experience and some success. Also, it will be the first time Cole has started on less than the usual four days' rest.
The Rays faced Cole three times this season, the first in his nine-year, $324 million deal to join the Yankees. The won two of the games, scoring nine runs while hitting five homers, though also striking out 27 times in 16-1/3 innings.
And in the Game 1 loss, they did score three runs — on homers by Randy Arozarena and Ji-Man Choi, who has had more success against Cole than anyone.
In Cole’s two starts in last year’s division series, the Rays scored one run and struck out 25 times in 15-2/3 innings.
“We’ve seen him, I think we know him a little bit better now,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "We know them, they know us. I don’t know whose favor that works into.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
"We know he’s a talented pitcher, and he’ll be dialed up. I would anticipate (he’ll be) just like he is on regular rest. So, we’ve got to come out and have some really good at-bats against him. Like we’ve shown the ability to do in the past and go from there.''
They certainly need to do better than Thursday, when they were shut down for the first six innings by Jordan Montgomery and Chad Green before the Yankees went to top relievers Zack Britton (who threw 22 pitches) and Aroldis Chapman (23), managing just three hits overall.
The rally that produced their one run was somewhat symbolic of their frustration for the night.
Willy Adames led off the third inning with a walk and Kevin Kiermaier followed with a double off Montgomery that hopped the leftfield wall. After Mike Zunino struck out, Yandy Diaz walked to load the bases. Team MVP Brandon Lowe, having a rough postseason thus far, got one run in on a fielder’s choice groundout. And then Randy Arozarena, the red-hot rookie who had been hitting everything, grounded out.
“You’d like to get a little bit more going, especially second and third (with) no outs,” Cash said. “But that guy came back and made pitches. (Zunino) had a really good at-bat going into the 3-2 (pitch), he laid off a couple pitches, two or three pitches, to get it to full count then swung through a changeup. That’s going to happen.”
The Rays were behind 2-0 early when opener Ryan Thompson, the rookie right-handed side-armer, followed up a strong first inning with a messy second, including three consecutive walks.
The Yankees got one run when Luke Voit swatted Thompson’s second pitch of the inning over the left-centerfield fence. The other took some patience as Thompson walked Brett Gardner on nine pitches, Gleyber Torres on four and Gio Urshela on five. After a strikeout, DJ LeMahieu lofted a sacrifice fly to right.
Cash wanted to get Thompson through the order once, then make the switch to lefty Ryan Yarbrough to give the Yankees contrasting looks and said even after the walks he thought Thompson was the better choice to get a ground ball for a double play.
Yarbrough came on to finish the second and did well until the sixth, when he gave up a two-run homer to Torres that hit the Western Metal Supply Co. building beyond the leftfield fence, a blast estimated at 410 feet that left his bat at 108.7 mph.
So now the Rays' season is down to one game, and Cole is in their way.
“We’ve got to do everything we can,” Adames said. “Everything is in our hands to win the game."