The Astros-Rays matchup for the right to head to Texas (boy, that makes it sound like a pyrrhic victory) has a lot of angles to it. It’s the league’s best contact team in the Astros vs. one of the worst in the Rays. It’s a bullpen full of darkness-bringers in Tampa versus one made up of guys who sound made up in Houston. There’s also the villainous cheaters vs. the plucky go-hard organization that just has to take so little and make it sing loud, though if you think about this for any length of time it falls apart pretty quickly (at least on the Rays’ side).
However you see it, if we can get more games like Sunday night’s Game 1, we’ll be in for a treat.
The Rays pulled it out, 2-1, thanks to Mike Zunino’s single in the 5th that would have been caught if Jose Altuve wasn’t an alumnus of the Lollipop Guild, and then some killer relief pitching. Which is generally how the Rays do it.
The Rays got here because in Game 4 of their division series against the Yankees, they didn’t sell out to try and get a win that had gotten away from them. They only used three pitchers that night, and the only one who would be considered for the Goon Squad is Ryan Yarborough. It’s harder than it sounds in the playoffs to remain cool and see the big picture. It was stil 2-1 in the 6th, but once the Yankees started to mount a rally, manager Kevin Cash didn’t call in the main cavalry to try and keep it in range to try and end that series that night.
He kept his powder dry, which left Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks, and finally Diego Castillo fresh to shut down the Yanks for six innings, striking out nine hitters in that time. Because they were so fresh, and not overexposed to the Yankees, the Rays didn’t need to go to Blake Snell or Charlie Morton in Game 5 at all. Meanwhile, they saw Aroldis Chapman two nights in a row, which certainly aided in Chapman being the one to hurl it up (and delightfully so).
While Snell wasn’t vintage last night, he had enough gas to get through five innings with the Astros only getting one run and keeping the Rays tied, even when they had a hard time stringing anything together offensively. Had Snell been required for any stretch on Friday, he might not have been able to toss 100+ pitches Sunday. The only pitcher to have to go repeat from Friday to Sunday was Castillo to close it out. And the Rays will still have Morton for Game 2, with Game 3 being about the only one they have to figure out on the go. That’s with Anderson and Fairbanks getting at least two days off. It’s advantageous.
Steven Tyler told us all 47 years ago you got to lose to know how to win. It’s never more true with no days off in the playoffs. Still kind of a shame that Tyler became so rubbery.
Kudos to Jeff Van Gundy for seeing the world as it truly is:
We are not better, as we are only as strong as our weakest link. Which is pretty fucking weak, all things considered.