History will forever sneer at Kevin Cash for yanking Blake Snell

Romano | It won’t matter that the Rays reached the World Series by relying on the bullpen. History will only recall how they bowed out.
Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash takes the ball from starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) in the sixth inning n Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday night.
Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash takes the ball from starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) in the sixth inning n Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday night. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 28, 2020|Updated Oct. 29, 2020

ARLINGTON, Texas — This was not solely Kevin Cash’s fault, but it will always be his burden.

In the coming years, and perhaps decades, fans will contemptuously recall the night the Rays manager cost his team Game 6 of the World Series.

Will it be true? Partially. Will it be fair? Hardly.

But baseball lore demands its heroes and villains, and Cash nominated himself with a decision that was as unpopular as it was dubious in Tampa Bay’s 3-1 loss. With the Rays winning 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth, Cash pulled starter Blake Snell after the left-hander gave up just his second hit of the night. At that moment, only three out of 18 Dodgers hitters had gotten the ball out of the infield and nine had struck out.

Six pitches after Snell was removed, the Dodgers led 2-1 and the World Series was all but over. The vilification of Cash, however, was just beginning.

In the coming years, he will be lumped in with Red Sox manager John McNamara, who failed to remove first baseman Bill Buckner for a defensive replacement in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. He will be compared to Grady Little, who left Pedro Martinez in for too long in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series. He will be savaged as the embodiment of new-age, spreadsheet managing.

“Blake Snell was throwing better tonight than anyone I’ve ever seen in the World Series,” Hall of Fame pitcher Jack Morris told Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse. “These analytics guys we have now think numbers are more important than having an ace at his best on the hill.”

It was 29 years to the day that Morris threw 10 shutout innings for the Twins to beat the Braves 1-0 in Game 7 of the World Series.

But that was a different era, and the Rays have been baseball’s most boundary-pushing team. They have championed the idea of limiting starting pitchers facing hitters a third time in any game, and they have thrived with their stable of bullpen arms.

Yet this decision should have been anything but automatic. Snell was as dominant as he looked during his 2018 Cy Young season. He had thrown 29 fastballs at that point, 21 of them for strikes, and the Dodgers had yet to put one in play.

The lack of faith in Snell was only part of the decision. Making it worse, was having too much faith in reliever Nick Anderson, who has struggled the entire postseason after dominating hitters the past two years.

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“We owe it to ourselves to bring it all together to make the best decision,” Cash said. “Similar to some other ones we’ve made, I’ve made, this postseason, they are gut-wrenching. You feel for Blake. Everything that we try to do is try to put our team in the best position to win. I feel that’s the reason I made the decision. And I totally understand and respect any opinion off of that.”

Cash, who said it was not a pre-game decision to pull Snell before his third time through the order, was asked what the pitcher could have possibly done to keep himself in the game.

“Great question. I don’t know if I’ve got the best answer right now,” Cash said. “He did above and beyond what any of us could have asked for to limit that lineup the way he did. He was outstanding and gave us every opportunity to win. Good question, tough question. I don’t know if I have the best answer.”

Cash’s decision was the turning point in Game 6, but it was only one of the reasons the Rays ultimately fell short in their second trip to the World Series. The offense was subpar for most of October, and Tuesday night was no different.

Cash was managing with a 1-0 victory in mind, but the odds say that would have been a long-shot. The last time the Dodgers were held to one run in a game was two months ago. They had not been shut out at all.

It’s fair to say the lack of offense contributed to the decision, and certainly contributed to the defeat, but that nuance will be lost as history will seize on the manager’s call.

“If you ask what I think, I think it was Blake’s game. He was dominating,” centerfield Kevin Kiermaier said. “I don’t really care what the numbers say, third time through the order or whatever. There wasn’t many guys making contact in general and no hard contact whatsoever. We all wanted to see him stay in there, but Cash and everyone have been great this whole year making decisions. It didn’t work out for us.”

John Romano can be reached at Follow @romano_tbtimes.