Column: Eliminating plucky Rays in World Series Game 6 a tall order for the Dodgers
Each time the Tampa Bay Rays felt they were one hit or one break away from matching the Dodgers on Sunday night, their hopes vanished quicker than the home run Dodgers left fielder Joc Pederson socked 428 feet to left-center at Globe Life Stadium in the second inning.
The Rays had credited the baseball gods for lifting them to a wild and dramatic victory in Game 4 of the World Series, but those otherworldly forces deserted them in Game 5. It didn’t help that the Rays sabotaged their own cause with baserunning antics that echoed some of the Atlanta Braves’ follies against the Dodgers during the National League Championship Series. Even the baseball gods had to be shaking their heads at Manuel Margot’s misguided attempt to steal home in the fourth inning.
The Rays could have broken open the game in that inning, could have chased a wavering Clayton Kershaw as he fought to master his slider and curveball. Failing to push across a run after they put men on first and third with none out turned a scoring threat into a futile last gasp. The Dodgers’ bullpen helped secure a 4-2 victory and three-games-to-two World Series lead, pushing the Rays to the brink of elimination and the end of a memorable playoff run.
After 31 long years, the Dodgers are on the verge of finally putting seemingly countless October failures behind them in exchange for World Series glory.
Pluck, home run power and a deep bullpen have carried the Rays this far. They’ll need those ingredients and more Tuesday to prolong the World Series to a Game 7 on Wednesday.
“We always feel like we’re in it until that last out is made. Unfortunately we just didn’t have it tonight,” center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “We had our opportunities. First and third, no outs, and we’ve got to figure out a better way of squeaking across at least one run right there. But this is what happens when you face a really good team with really good pitching.
“We haven’t been swinging the bats the way we want to, collectively, throughout the past however many games, but we’re always trying to hit in those timely situations and we didn’t do that tonight. Just didn’t have enough baserunners on base the whole game to put the pressure on them and create some momentum for ourselves and move base to base. We need to do a better job and figure it out for Game 6.”
There’s not much time and not much they can change. The Rays are aggressive at the plate to the point of sometimes being too impatient to work deep counts, and they’re heavily dependent on home runs, although they didn’t hit one Sunday. Just as the Dodgers quickly and effectively put their gut-wrenching Game 4 loss on Saturday behind them, the Rays must have short memories about Game 5.
“I’m always confident with this bunch. We’ve had good bounce-back wins the whole year and they were better tonight,” Kiermaier said. “They put the pressure on us early and we couldn’t get a whole lot going there offensively. They just had a couple more big hits than us, scored a few more runs obviously, and that was the difference maker.
“But if there’s any team who can respond well with their backs against the wall in a sense, knowing what’s at stake — we’re in a situation now where it’s win or go home — our group is the group to come through when we need it the most.”
The Rays have been in a win-or-go-home predicament twice during the playoffs: They lost the opener of their AL Division Series to the New York Yankees and had to go a full five games, and they went to Game 7 against Houston in the ALCS after winning the first three games and losing the next three. “Obviously, it’s not a great position to be in, but we’ve battled all year long and we’ve come back before, so just go out and play like normal,” said pitcher Tyler Glasnow, who gave up two runs in the first inning and another in the second Sunday but steadied himself well enough to get through five innings.
Rays manager Kevin Cash was bluntly honest when asked to identify Glasnow’s biggest obstacle. “What hurt him was the talent of the Dodgers’ lineup more than anything,” Cash said. “They’re just really, really talented and can make pitchers work and drive the pitch count up. And they drive the pitch count up, and it seems like they find a way to get the big hit.”
Those big hits often have come early in the game. The Dodgers have scored in the first inning of each of the last three games. In Game 1, in the fourth inning, they scored the game’s first two runs. Only in Game 2 did the Rays score first, and they won, 6-4. “We’ve got to somehow prevent them from getting early leads on us, and that’s both ways,” Cash said. “Offensively we’ve got to do our part a little earlier, set a tone.
For Clayton Kershaw, the look of devastation from previous postseasons was replaced by an occasional smile following the Dodgers’ Game 5 win over the Rays.
“It is a problem. There’s no denying it’s a problem. We need to correct that, and we don’t have much time to correct it, so it needs to be fixed for Game 6 for sure. Home, away, it doesn’t matter. Prevent runs. I don’t care how we do it. We’ve got to do a better job at it.”
The Dodgers will start Tony Gonsolin, who took the loss in Game 2 as the opener in a bullpen game. Tampa Bay will start 2018 Cy Young winner Blake Snell, who gave up two runs in 4 2/3 innings in Game 2 and didn’t get the decision. “He’s a big-time pitcher and he likes the big stage, so we feel really good about ourselves with him up there and the way he dissected that lineup last time out there,” Kiermaier said. “Let’s hope for Round 2 again come Tuesday. I know he’s going to be excited to have the ball in that situation, given what’s at stake for us, so we’ll be ready to go.”
For the Rays, it’s be ready to go or be gone.
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