ARLINGTON, Texas — Endings are always cruel in the postseason, and this one was especially so.
The Rays' season ended with a 3-1 loss to the Dodgers in Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday night, a game they led into the sixth inning until manager Kevin Cash made a decision that will be long scrutinized. He pulled starter Blake Snell, who had been dominating.
The Rays' 1-0 lead disappeared quickly after Cash summoned Nick Anderson to replace Snell after the starter had allowed a one-out single to Austin Barnes. Anderson gave up a double to Mookie Betts, then allowed runs on a wild pitch and a grounder to first.
The Rays, continuing to struggle offensively, couldn’t get any closer, and a Betts homer created the final margin.
Cash said he made the decision because he didn’t want Snell to face the Dodgers' top hitters, Betts and Series MVP Corey Seager, for a third time, which is a common analytics-driven basis for decisions throughout the game.
"I felt Blake had done his job and then some,'' Cash said. "Mookie coming around for the third time through, I value that.
“I totally respect and understand the questions that come with it. Blake gave us every opportunity to win. He was outstanding. They’re not easy decisions. And that’s where I came to the decision. I felt it was best after the guy got on base, Barnes hit the single, didn’t want Mookie or Seager seeing Blake a third time.”
Snell, who struck out nine of the first 13 Dodgers, including Betts and Seager twice each, said he thought he deserved the chance to stay in.
"I get it’s the third time through the lineup,'' Snell said. "I think I’m going to make the adjustments I need to make as I see them a third time. I don’t know, man. I believe in me, I believe in my stuff, I believe in what I was doing. I didn’t walk nobody, they had two hits up the middle. ... For most of that game, I was dominating every outcome possible.''
Making it worse for the Rays is that Anderson failed to hold the lead. In the postseason, he had not been the same dominant pitcher he was during the regular season, and he acknowledged after the game that he was tired, though not hurt. But Cash said he remained confident in Anderson.
The game turned out to be the seventh straight in which he allowed a run, the longest such stretch in postseason history.
Cash said that the decision to pull Snell was not part of a set plan and definitely was his to make. He was asked if he regretted it. He said he did because it didn’t work out but the thought process was right.
“How it unfolded today was pretty tough,” he said.
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Snell was disappointed and frustrated, and said there was “no shot” he could have done any more to get to stay in.
“At the end of the day, I see both sides,” he said. “But just me and the way I felt that game and what (Cash) was able to see during that game, I don’t want to be taken out of that game. I don’t like being taken out of any game.
"For the most part, I’m going to side with Cash because of the kind of manager he is. It’s tough. For me, I want to be the guy. If they beat me, that beat me. … Cash is usually right.”
For a Rays team that came into 2020 with grand expectations buoyed by its playoff run last year; one that navigated the season’s coronavirus-pandemic delay and the abbreviated 60-game season to post the top record in the American League; one that battled through three rounds of playoffs by twice surviving win-or-go-home games to get to the World Series, it is still going home disappointed.
“We came in here feeling really good about ourselves,” team leader Kevin Kiermaier said. "But now that’s over with, I don’t know. I’m not sad. I’m not disappointed. I’m so proud of everyone in our whole organization for what we accomplished this year. Came up a little bit short of what our goal was, and that was to be out there celebrating right now, hoisting that trophy up, but the Dodgers played better than us. … It is what it is, and they did a great job.
"They pitched, they hit, they scored in many different ways, and we got beat fair and square. … We would loved to have won it. It just wasn’t our time.''
They didn’t all feel that way.
"I just hope the guys understand that we should not be okay with taking second or losing,'' Snell said. "We should not be okay with that. We’ve got to find a way to be better for next year. Come in to spring hungry. Getting this far losing should be the worst feeling in the world.''
This was the Rays' second trip to the Series in their 23-season history, and their second loss. They were beaten in 2008 by the Phillies in five games.
On the other side of Globe Life Field, there was absolute joy. The Dodgers won the Series for the first time since 1988, and much of the credit goes to baseball operations chief Andrew Friedman, who helped transform the Rays into a contender before heading west after the 2014 season.
The Rays jumped out to the early lead they craved Tuesday, and it was hardly a surprise who got them there: Randy Arozarena, their postseason sensation.
His homer to right with one out in the first was his 10th of the postseason and his 28th hit, extending two of the records he has rewritten in his breakout month.
But the Rays’ lack of additional offense was also costly.
The Rays could have had more runs off Dodgers rookie starter Tony Gonsolin in the first. After Arozarena’s homer, Austin Meadows singled and Brandon Lowe walked. But Manuel Margot flied to right, and Joey Wendle struck out.
The Rays compounded their frustration in the second when Kiermaier doubled with one out and Ji-Man Choi, getting a turn in the leadoff slot, walked with two out. With Arozarena due next, the Dodgers brought in Dylan Floro, and the former Ray struck him out.
Snell was absolutely dazzling. Besides striking out nine of the first 13 Dodgers, he allowed only a Chris Taylor single through the first five innings and had thrown only 73 pitches when he was pulled. He talked Sunday about wanting to go deep in the game, and it appeared that he was going to get through six innings for the first time since before his July 2019 elbow surgery.
But then he allowed the one-out single to Barnes in the sixth, completing his second turn through the Dodgers order, and he was out of the game.
Anderson was in, and that didn’t work out, as he allowed a double to Mookie Betts, then runs on a wild pitch and a grounder to first. Betts added a homer in the eighth off Pete Fairbanks for the final margin.
"Obviously I’ll take heat for not holding up my end on this kind of playoff stretch, but it wasn’t anything to do with effort,'' Anderson said. "I was just going out there, kind of just laying on the line every time and just fell a little short.''