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Column: Dodgers pounce after Rays make poor decision to remove Blake Snell

Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes scores in front of Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Nick Anderson on a wild pitch.
The Dodgers’ Austin Barnes scores in front of Tampa Bay reliever Nick Anderson on a sixth-inning wild pitch. The Dodgers capitalized quickly after the Rays removed starter Blake Snell.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Process won the World Series for the Dodgers.

Just not how they imagined.

Reading from the how-to manual of modern baseball, Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash removed starter Blake Snell from the sixth inning of a game in which he was virtually unhittable.

Some gobbledygook about pitching to the Dodgers’ lineup for a third time.

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Teams have boasted of their Wall Street-inspired strategies, but this was of the same variety responsible for the subprime mortgage crisis.

While Cash didn’t crash the entire economy, he was thoroughly destructive in his realm of influence, as he eviscerated the Rays’ one-run lead and whatever remained of the team’s championship aspirations.

The Dodgers pounced on his mistake. Two batters after Snell was replaced by reliever Nick Anderson, they were ahead by a run, well on their way to a 3-1 victory that clinched the World Series by a four-games-to-two margin.

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Cash defended how he reached his decision, but how the Dodgers reacted to the move was evidence of how misguided he was to take Snell out of the game.

“I was pretty happy because he was dominating us and we just weren’t seeing him,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

The last pitch Snell delivered was only his 73rd, a misplaced slider that No. 9 hitter Austin Barnes slapped into center field.

At the time, the Rays were up 1-0.

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Barnes’ single was only the second hit allowed by Snell, who struck out nine and walked none in 5-1/3 innings.

The top of the Dodgers’ order was coming up: Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and Justin Turner.

But Snell had struck out each of them twice. So when Cash scaled the steps of the Rays’ dugout and pointed to his bullpen, Betts flashed Roberts a smile.

“Oh man, it was kind of a sigh of relief,” Betts said. “Had he stayed in the game, he may have pitched a complete game. He was rolling, pitching really well. That’s the Cy Young Snell that came tonight, so once he came out of the game, it was a breath of fresh air.”

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The Rays unraveled almost instantly. Betts doubled against Anderson, moving Barnes to third. The right-hander then uncorked a wild pitch to Seager, permitting Barnes to score.

Seager bounced a grounder to the right side of the Rays’ encroached infield, but Betts’ headfirst slide to the plate beat a throw by first baseman Ji-Man Choi.

The Dodgers were in front 2-1. The World Series was theirs.

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In a postgame interview on Fox, Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger said of Snell’s departure: “I was shocked. We were kind of joking around, like, ‘Way to get him out in the sixth, like we planned.’ Umm, but not like that. We rallied from there. Snell had his stuff today. He was gross. So, I would say that, yeah, it uplifted us.”

Cash confirmed after the game that he was reluctant to let Snell pitch to Betts and Seager a third time.

While defending his manager’s credentials, Snell acknowledged he was frustrated by his removal.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said the Dodgers and Lakers will indeed celebrate their championships with fans, somehow, some way. He is open to suggestions.

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“That was one of my better games I’ve pitched in a long time, honestly,” Snell said. ‘The way I was controlling the zone, the way I was adjusting. I felt very comfortable out there.”

Snell said he studied the Dodgers closely, which is why he thought he was able to keep them in check on his second time through their lineup.

“I get it’s a third time through the lineup, but, I mean, I think I’m going to make the adjustments I need to make as I see them a third time,” Snell said. “I just believe in me. I believe in my stuff. I believe in what I was doing.”

The series confirmed not only the superiority of the Dodgers’ lineup and starting pitching but also showcased the advantage the team had on the bench.

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Hardened by previous failures, Roberts ignored the boos of his own team’s fans and masterfully guided his bullpen to victory in the last two games. Three relievers pitched a combined 3-1/3 scoreless innings in Game 5. Six picked up 7-1/3 scoreless innings in Game 6.

After starter Tony Gonsolin ran into trouble early, the Dodgers’ bullpen kept the Rays’ hitters at bay to deliver a World Series triumph in Game 6.

His counterpart didn’t withstand the October spotlight nearly as well. Cash ignored what was obvious and went to the so-called book.

The Rays’ brand of baseball was introduced to the franchise years ago by Andrew Friedman, who, ironically, became a beneficiary of Cash’s fealty to it. The analytically based approach allowed the frugal Rays to compete with higher-spending teams, only to have the mindset fail them on the sport’s greatest stage.

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Asked whether he regretted his decision, Cash laughed.

“Well, yeah,” he said. “I guess I regret it because it didn’t work out.”

He cracked open the door for the Dodgers. Until Cash wins a World Series, he can replay the decision in his head. The Dodgers know what that’s like.


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