Column: Brandon Lowe busts out of slump and bursts Dodgers’ bubble in Rays’ Game 2 win
The Dodgers weren’t going to embarrass the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series and Brandon Lowe’s bat wasn’t going to stay silent forever.
Though those possibilities seemed legitimate after the Dodgers danced around the basepaths to earn a commanding victory in Game 1, a compelling bounceback on Wednesday by the Rays, fueled by Lowe’s slump-busting, two-home-run performance, underscored that this matchup won’t be a walkover. It’s winnable for the Dodgers, with Walker Buehler, Julio Urías and Clayton Kershaw scheduled to start the next three games, but they’ll have to work hard for it against a team that gained more than a little confidence with a 6-4 win on Wednesday that tied the World Series at one game each.
Lowe, hitless in 18 at-bats in the Rays’ five-game American League Division Series conquest of the New York Yankees and four for 26 (.154) against Houston in a seven-game AL Championship Series, had dragged down his dismal postseason batting average by going 0 for four against the Dodgers on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he rewarded manager Kevin Cash’s faith in him by taking Dodgers opener Tony Gonsolin deep in the first inning and tagging a flailing Dustin May for a two-out, two-run shot in the fifth.
The Dodgers have not done an optimal job putting players into position to succeed this postseason and it showed on Wednesday with Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May.
“To say that my mind wasn’t going different places during that kind of struggle would be lying to you,” Lowe said during a postgame video session, “but that’s what’s so great about this team. As soon as I started dragging my feet, somebody was right there to pick me up and tell me to focus up and let’s get going. Just pure joy going into that dugout after hitting that home run. Everyone was happy. Everyone was jumping up and down. It’s not an individual thing out there. It’s everyone with the team. And whatever helps the team win.”
His display of power supported a 4 2/3-inning outing by starter Blake Snell, who held the Dodgers hitless until Chris Taylor blasted a two-run home run to the far reaches of Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. Coupled with nine strikeouts by Snell and exceptional work by the Rays’ bullpen, the game declared that Tampa Bay, while respectful of the Dodgers, wasn’t intimidated by them in losing the opener.
“I don’t think that anybody in our clubhouse thought this series was over. There was one game and they had a future Hall of Famer on the mound and he pitched a great game,” Lowe said of Kershaw’s effort in the Dodgers’ 8-3 romp on Tuesday. “We just had to show up and take care of business. We came out there and played our game.”
That performance was closer to who they believe they are. “I was very confident that we would show up and be ready to go,” said Snell, the 2018 AL Cy Young winner. “I didn’t really think that we were like, ‘OK, we really need this one.’ Obviously you do, it’s the World Series, you need every win, but I didn’t really press myself too much, honestly. I knew I was very confident in myself and my game plan that I had against these guys. Being able to watch them [in] Game 1 was really beneficial for me. I really got to see them in person and I felt like that helped me a lot.
“Every game right now is obviously a must-win, but I didn’t feel the pressure of, ‘We really need to win.’ I felt more pressure on myself like, ‘Let’s get it going. Let’s give this team something to push forward with.’ I think B-Lowe set the tone when he hit the first home run, got everyone juiced up, and from that point, you just felt the momentum leaning our way for the rest of the game.”
Cash ignored cries that he should drop Lowe in the batting order based on his faith that Lowe’s mental toughness would eventually allow him to turn things around. Cash felt he owed him that support. “He’s shown over time that he’s a really good hitter, a really good player, and sometimes you’ve got to allow players to go through some tough patches, and he’s been in one,” Cash said.
The Dodgers are the favorite to win the World Series, but they didn’t play like it in Game 2. Should they be worried about losing to the Tampa Bay Rays?
“But man, the first home run was exciting, and the second one really ignited him. He can go quiet for a while, but he can get as hot as anyone in baseball, and hopefully that’s a trend that we’re looking at going forward.”
Cash also hopes that the Rays’ 10-hit game on Wednesday triggered another favorable trend for them. “We have a complete offense,” he said. “I know they’ve been quiet, but we have a lot of confidence in this group that we can be really balanced, have good at-bats and put pressure on opposing defenses.”
A lot lined up for the Rays to win on Wednesday: They started a recent Cy Young winner, while the Dodgers were committed to a bullpen game from a tired bullpen. The Dodgers were 0 for six with runners in scoring position and left five runners on base, including stranding Justin Turner after he got to second with no one out in the eighth. Manager Dave Roberts tried to apply a positive spin, saying the Dodgers gained by seeing the Rays go four-deep into their formidable bullpen.
The Dodgers lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 2 of the World Series, but they got a win by keeping their stable of top starters rested for another game.
“It is great just to put eyes on guys that we hadn’t seen before,” he said. “Once you see guys once, twice, you just keep getting that familiarity, so that’s just going to only benefit us going forward.”
They’ll see another familiar face on Friday in Game 3: starter Charlie Morton, who got the last 12 outs of Game 7 of the 2017 World Series against the Dodgers while pitching for the Houston Astros. Morton said he knew of the Astros’ trashcan-banging sign-stealing scheme and told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this year, “Personally, I regret not doing more to stop it. I don’t know what that would have entailed. I think the actions would have been somewhat extreme to stop it. That’s a hypothetical.” This year, he pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings to help Tampa Bay beat Houston in Game 7 of the ALCS. He’s 3-0 in the playoffs, with 17 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings. “He’s definitely a postseason stud,” Cash said.
This World Series wasn’t going to be one-sided. It shouldn’t be. “Obviously, they have some special talent over there on the offensive side of the ball,” Rays third baseman Joey Wendle said, “but we’re confident in what we can do as well.”
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