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A weak offense finally cost the Rays a shot at immortality

Tampa Bay scored only three runs in Games 5 and 6 of the World Series, continuing a pattern that plagued the team all October.
The Rays' Joey Wendle, right, looks on after striking out in the sixth inning as Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes (15) walks off the field in Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday night in Arlington, Texas.
The Rays' Joey Wendle, right, looks on after striking out in the sixth inning as Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes (15) walks off the field in Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday night in Arlington, Texas. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 28, 2020
Updated Oct. 28, 2020

ARLINGTON, Texas — Their bats went silent, and now so is a team’s heart. You might have expected the first to happen, but never the other.

Not this team, not these Rays. Their most enduring characteristic had always been finding a way to win. But with the season on the line Tuesday night in Game 6, Tampa Bay’s offense was as impotent as ever.

Once again, the Rays left it up to Randy Arozarena to carry them. The rookie leftfielder hit a first-inning home run — his record 10th of the postseason — but his teammates contributed next to nothing offensively in the 3-1 loss to the Dodgers.

The Rays went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position in the first two innings, and then never got another runner to second base. They struck out 16 times against a parade of relief pitchers out of the Los Angeles bullpen.

The decision to pull starter Blake Snell with a shutout going in the sixth inning will always be the focal point of the game — and probably the World Series from Tampa Bay’s standpoint — but centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier rightfully pointed out that the offense shared in the defeat.

“If we would have scored more runs and had better at-bats and tried to generate more offense to give Blake a little more breathing room he would have stayed in there,” Kiermaier said. “We did what we did, and it didn’t work out. Plain and simple.”

The Rays' Kevin Kiermaier connects for a double in the second inning in Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday night.
The Rays' Kevin Kiermaier connects for a double in the second inning in Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday night. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

In retrospect, it’s pretty remarkable that Tampa Bay came within two victories of being World Series champions. In a record 20 postseason games, the Rays hit .211 as a team. Take away Arozarena’s historic .370 average, and the rest of the lineup hit .191.

It was a disappointing ending, but not really stunning for a team uniquely built with versatility and depth. There were no major stars, but also no obvious weaknesses. The defense was excellent, the pitching was deep and the hitting was good enough.

The Rays won with near complete balance. And they ended up losing the same way.

The Snell decision will end up being the defining moment, and that’s unfortunate. It was a mistake, but it was one of many letdowns over the course of the season’s final eight days. The offense disappeared and, other than Snell’s two World Series starts, the pitching was not as dominant as Rays fans had come to expect.

In the end, the Rays were not the best team in baseball in 2020, but they were the best story.

They were unifying without being political. They were inspiring without being cloying. They beat the odds, the bullies and the doubters. And they did it all with a childlike exuberance that, for three hours a night, made you forget the world outside your window.

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They were a real-life reminder of what can be accomplished when differences and desires are set aside to pull for one another.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.