For the Dodgers the symbols of their last two championships are Kirk Gibson limping around the bases and Kevin Cash walking out of a dugout.
The first made the great Vin Scully proclaim, “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.” The same could have been said Tuesday night. In this improbable pandemic season, Cash, the Rays manager, did the impossible — he managed the game in his imagination rather than the one taking place on the actual field.
Blake Snell was offering a Madison Bumgarner, Curt Schilling, Bob Gibson kind of October performance. But hours before Snell threw his first pitch of World Series Game 6 — thus, hours before he had any idea what the lefty would deliver — Cash had decided Snell would not face anyone in the Dodger lineup a third time. Not one batter. No matter if he were dominating the very top of the order that was due nor that the reliever Cash would be summoning, Nick Anderson, had been generally atrocious this postseason.
Napoleon famously said, “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” So the Dodgers stood back and watched Cash create his own Waterloo. If the art of managing best is doing what your opponent wants you to do least, then the Dodgers were thrilled to see Cash hook Snell with a two-hit, nine-strikeout shutout going one out into the sixth.
“I was pretty happy because [Snell] was dominating us and we weren’t seeing him,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “We were all kind of excited that Snell was out of the game.”
Even better for the Dodgers was to protect a 1-0 lead, Cash had brought in Anderson, who was already in the midst of a postseason record of giving up runs in six straight appearances. It would become seven quickly in what would be the seminal pivot of the Dodgers’ clinching 3-1 triumph.
“Yes, I regret it because it didn’t work out,” Cash said. “I thought the thought process was right.’’
Cash is likely to win AL Manager of the Year on Nov. 10. He cobbled the sum of the parts into a whole good enough to not only get to the World Series, but challenge a Dodgers club superior on paper. He was expert at motivating players to buy into a team concept in which anyone could be used at any time — to check egos at the door. But that philosophy perhaps kept him from appreciating what was occurring in front of him Tuesday night, leading to the worst World Series Game 6 flub since the ball was going through Buckner’s legs in 1986. At least those Red Sox still had a chance in Game 7. There is now no tomorrow for the Rays. What there was, instead, was the first title in 11,695 days for the Dodgers.
The last time the Dodgers won it all, “Red Red Wine” was the No. 1 song in the nation, “The Cosby Show” the No. 1 TV show and No. 1 starters were the key to winning championships. Nowadays, teams run away from even their aces. The math proves it a sound strategy, employed best probably by the Rays, whose long bullpen was central to their under-financed run to an AL title.
Still, context always matters. And what was occurring on the field was Snell throwing poise and pellets at the Dodgers.
“With how I felt today, I just wanted to ride,” Snell said.
Randy Arozarena had homered as the second batter in the game to give the Rays a 1-0 lead, but Tampa Bay went hitless in four at-bats with runners in scoring position over the first two innings, squandering a chance to create distance. Still, Snell made 1-0 play like a larger advantage. His fastball, curve and slider were all magnificent. He looked like the 2018 AL Cy Young winner. Overpowering. Efficient. Cruising.
So when No. 9 hitter Austin Barnes singled with one out in the sixth, Snell was at just 73 pitches. But the top of the lineup was due and Cash said he didn’t want the lineup to get a third look at Snell. The top four of Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Max Muncy had tortured Rays pitching in this series. But they were 0-for-8 against Snell with seven strikeouts in Game 6.
Yet, here came Cash and there went Snell and the Rays’ best chance to force a decisive Game 7. The theory of going to a strong pen is fine. But the Anderson who Cash was calling upon was not the force of the regular season. Betts lined his third pitch for a double to put runners at second and third. Barnes scored on a wild pitch and Betts — the best base runner in the majors — came home on an infield-in grounder to first to give the Dodgers the lead for the rest of the 2020 season.
Betts would homer in the eighth off Peter Fairbanks. So against Snell, Betts struck out twice. Against the Rays pen he had the two biggest hits of the game — a double and a homer.
“It was Blake’s game,” Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “He was dominating. I don’t really care what the numbers say third time through the order or whatever. Not a lot of guys were making contact in general and no hard contact whatsoever. We all wanted him to stay in there.”
The Dodgers had waited 32 years for more magic like Gibson’s Game 1 homer in the 1988 World Series. And there was Cash walking toward the mound.
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