To describe the Rays solely as scrappy underdogs is to shortchange their talent.
They have a Cy Young Award winner, a growing collection of young all-stars, renowned defenders all over the diamond and arguably baseball’s most dominant relief trio. Whether they’re well-known or not, the Rays, too, have stars.
A day after the Dodgers’ brightest stars lifted them to a win in Game 1 of the World Series, the Rays top players showed they were every bit as capable of doing the same.
Blake Snell pitched 4.2 hitless innings before running into trouble, Brandon Lowe snapped out of his postseason slump with two home runs and the Rays beat the Dodgers 6-4 in Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday night. The series is tied 1-1.
“I was very confident that we’d show up and be ready to go,” said Snell, who tied his postseason career high with nine strikeouts. “I didn’t really think that we were like ‘Ok, we really need this one.’ Obviously we do because it’s the World Series. We need every win.
“But I didn’t really press myself too much, honestly. I knew I was very confident in myself and my gameplan that I had against these guys.”
Snell had every reason to feel confident. The most recognizable of the Rays standouts as the 2015 Minor League Player of the Year and 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner, the 27-year-old lefty had his fastball, curveball and slider all working as he mowed through the Dodgers vaunted lineup. He held the Dodgers without a hit while recording two strikeouts in each of his first four innings, joining Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson as the only players to record multiple strikeouts in four consecutive innings in a World Series game.
His early dominance gave the Rays time to build a commanding 5-0 lead. He lost the no-hitter and the shutout on Chris Taylor’s two-run homer in the fifth, but his effort announced loud and clear that yes, the Rays best pitcher could match up with the Dodgers best hitters.
“I just had a good gameplan for these guys,” Snell said. “I was able to watch them in Game 1 and that gave me a lot more input on what I wanted to do today. I just wanted to attack them, make them start swinging.”
Lowe took care of the offense. A former Top 100 prospect who was an all-star as a rookie in 2019 and the AL MVP favorite through the halfway point of the abbreviated 2020 season, no player better exemplifies the Rays players who are bona-fide stars, independent of whether they receive widespread recognition.
That status is what led Rays manager Kevin Cash to stick with Lowe even as he suffered through a miserable 6-for-56 slump in the postseason entering Wednesday night.
The 26-year-old second baseman rewarded that patience with a home run in the top of the first to put the Rays up immediately, followed by a two-run shot in the top of the fifth to extend their lead to 5-0.
“Look, Brandon is really good,” Cash said. “…You already put pressure on yourself to do the toughest thing in sports, which is to hit a baseball, and you’re trying to do it against best pitching in baseball in the postseason. You’ve got to be tough-minded and Brandon is.”
With their top hitter leading the way, the rest of the Rays followed. Joey Wendle doubled and drove in three runs. Manny Margot notched two hits and a stolen base. Austin Meadows snapped an 0-for-13 slump with a single and a run scored.
All in all the Rays finished with 10 hits, the most in their last 10 games dating back to Game 3 of the ALDS.
“It doesn’t matter who it is at the plate,” Lowe said. “The guys 1 through 9 and then some on the bench, it’s a scary lineup to face and I think we got a lot more to prove.”
The Rays standout bullpen trio of Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo finished it off, with help from a pair of crucial strikeouts by lefty specialist Aaron Loup. The Dodgers got one each off of Anderson and Fairbanks, but that was all they could manage.
A day after looking invincible, the Dodgers never led in Game 2. The Rays stars stepped up to make that happen, and now, it’s a series.
“I don’t think that anybody in our clubhouse thought the series was over,” Lowe said. “It was one game and they had a future Hall of Famer on the mound. He pitched a great game. We had to show up and take care of business. We came out today and played our game.”