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Shane McClanahan proves Rays’ trust in him for ALDS isn’t misplaced

The former USF standout strikes out the side in the first inning, then gets through five unscathed.
Rays starting pitcher Shane McClanahan allows five hits — all singles — and no walks in getting through five innings Thursday night against the Red Sox.
Rays starting pitcher Shane McClanahan allows five hits — all singles — and no walks in getting through five innings Thursday night against the Red Sox. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Oct. 8, 2021|Updated Oct. 8, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — All season, the moment never seemed too big for Rays rookie left-hander Shane McClanahan. Thursday night was a different kind of moment.

But it was the same kind of McClanahan — composed, electric at times, unwavering when trouble mounted. He set a winning tone for the Rays’ 5-0 victory against the Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Tropicana Field.

How did McClanahan handle the moment?

“I was more excited than anything, to be honest with you,” said McClanahan, the former USF standout. “I couldn’t stop smiling in warmups just because of how cool the environment was. I was like, ‘You’ve got to focus. Stop doing that (smiling).’

“But yeah, I felt prepared. I didn’t really feel overwhelmed. I thought it was a good step in the right direction.”

Rays manager Kevin Cash agreed.

“A lot of questions about Shane coming in, and rightfully so,” Cash said. “He hasn’t done it in a postseason that much. I think he answered a lot of them with just his poise, the composure he showed on the mound and just making quality pitches.

“The Red Sox know him very well. There are no secrets. They know what he is trying to do and he was still able to execute and make big pitches. And the guys behind him made big plays when they needed to.”

McClanahan struck out the side in the first inning, punctuating it with a 100-mph fastball and an emotional first pump. He walked no one in five innings. And when his command began wavering toward the end of his outing, especially in a 29-pitch fourth inning, he escaped without any lasting damage.

All in all, it was exactly what the Rays needed from McClanahan in his first postseason start. He allowed five hits — all singles — and didn’t have any strikeouts after the first.

Shane McClanahan and catcher Mike Zunino talk on the mound during the fourth inning.
Shane McClanahan and catcher Mike Zunino talk on the mound during the fourth inning. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“I felt like I could throw anything at any time for a strike,” McClanahan said. “Ultimately, I didn’t get any more strikeouts after the first. But I would rather do what I did and just be efficient and let them hit the ball. I have a great group of guys behind me and they’re going to make every single play. … I feel like it’s every single night. They saved my tail so many times, so I feel lucky to have that group of guys behind me.”

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In the first inning, McClanahan took matters into his own left hand. After a one-out single, he got the Red Sox’s Nos. 3-4 batters, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers, on swinging strikeouts. He retired Devers on a 100.1-mph four-seam fastball, the 17th time he surpassed the 100-mark this season.

“Any time you get a guy like Rafael Devers to swing and miss on a fastball, it’s always a good feeling,” said McClanahan (10-6, 3.43 ERA during the regular season). “And the magnitude of the game (amplified that). Even though it was the first inning, runner on second base and every run counts. It could have been a 1-0 game. Ultimately, it meant a lot to get out of that inning unscathed.”

McClanahan was just the Rays’ second traditional rookie starter (non-opener) to start Game 1 of a postseason series (along with Matt Moore in 2011). Now he’s just the fifth Rays’ rookie to win in the postseason (joining David Price in 2008, Wade Davis in 2010, Moore and John Curtiss in 2020).

This season, McClanahan hasn’t looked like a rookie, surrendering three runs or fewer in all but three of his 26 starts.

“I didn’t do anything,” Cash said. “I just penciled his name in. He has done it himself. This year, he came in extremely motivated and hasn’t looked back.”

Big moment. Big performance.

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