ST. PETERSBURG — Brett Phillips got it.
The Seminole-born, lefty-hitting outfielder who is the emotional heartbeat of the Rays said he understood why he was left off the 26-man American League Division Series roster, with Boston starting left-handers three times in the potential five games.
And he said he told manager Kevin Cash and baseball operations president Erik Neander so after they informed him of the decision: “I believe in you guys so much and I have so much confidence. I want to win the World Series. And if that means leaving me off the roster for this series because of matchups, I’m 100 percent okay with it.”
And being Phillips, he spoke about it standing in the dugout before Thursday’s game wearing a coach’s helmet (and joking he would be working third base), sporting a stopwatch around his neck and carrying a clipboard on which he’ll write inspirational slogans as he thinks of them. The first was a description of the team: Relentless, Awesome, Youthful, Savvy.
“I believe in every single one of these guys who made the roster that they’re going to get the job done,” he said. “And I’m going to be here supporting them.”
There were two primary reasons for what Cash said was “a very tough decision for everything that (Phillips) has meant to our club this year.”
One, so they could use right-handed hitting infielder/outfielder Jordan Luplow, who will start at first base against the lefties and see more time than Phillips would have.
Two, so they could carry an extra pitcher (13th), providing depth and coverage as they plan a bullpen day for either Game 3 or Game 4, and plan to be aggressive overall in going to the bullpen.
That group included Matt Wisler, who convinced them he was over the right middle finger inflammation that has been a months-long issue; starter Michael Wacha, who can provide multi-inning coverage; and recently converted starter Josh Fleming as the lone lefty reliever.
Left off were lefty starter Ryan Yarbrough, who will stay lengthened out in case he’s needed for duty later in the postseason; and Nick Anderson, who still is working back from a spring elbow injury to regain his form.
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Rosters can be re-set for each round of the postseason; injured players can be replaced but have to skip the next round.
Shane Baz ready for next challenge
Shane Baz this year has pitched at Double-A Montgomery, at Triple-A Durham, in the All-Star Futures Game, for the U.S. Olympic team in Tokyo and in his debut for the Rays. Friday, the 22-year-old veteran of three big-league starts, will be on the mound for Game 2 of the Division Series. “I think this wins,” he said. “This is probably the biggest one.”
⋅ Announced attendance for the first postseason game at Tropicana Field with fans since Oct. 8, 2019, was 27,419, with fans waving yellow rally towels provided by the team. Sales are stronger for Friday’s Game 2, perhaps around 35,000.
⋅ The Rays, after getting approval from Major League Baseball, took down the yellow stripe that was across the top of the centerfield fence, removing a potential visual distraction for some hitters.
⋅ The Red Sox dropped Matt Barnes, who had a team-high 24 saves but lost his job in August, to add Martin Perez as an extra lefty reliever. DH J.D. Martinez was included on the roster but didn’t start due to a sore right ankle. Manager Alex Cora said there is a “strong possibility” Martinez starts Friday. Lefty Chris Sale, the Lakeland native, starts Game 2.
⋅ A potential Game 4 in Boston will start at 7:07 p.m. Monday, the re-scheduled date of the marathon. A potential Game 5 Wednesday at the Trop would start at 5:07 or 8:07 p.m.
⋅ ESPN basketball broadcaster and prominent Rays fan Dick Vitale threw out the ceremonial first pitch; saxophonist BK Jackson, a Trop favorite, performed the anthem.
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