ARLINGTON, Texas — Blake Snell was pitching the game of his life, having shut out the Los Angeles Dodgers into the sixth inning of Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday night.
The lefthander had struck out nine without a walk and allowed two hits over only 73 pitches.
But when Mookie Betts walked to the plate, Rays manager Kevin Cash popped out of the dugout. Snell looked up and cursed because he knew what was coming.
The Rays have a plan and there is little room for instinct or improvisation on those pages. Their research says Snell shouldn’t face a batter a third time around, that there’s less risk to go to the bullpen.
The Dodgers also rely heavily on analytics to guide their choices. But as their manager, Dave Roberts, said a day earlier, sometimes you just have to let the game play out.
The Dodgers, thrilled to see Snell out of the game, scored two quick runs and went on to 3-1 victory, claiming their first championship since 1988.
Fittingly, it was Betts who scored the go-ahead run. The player the Dodgers obtained from the Red Sox in February to put their team over the top after World Series losses in 2017 and ’18, fulfilled that mission.
With a runner on first, Betts lined the third pitch he saw from reliever Nick Anderson into left field for a double. Anderson then unleashed a wild pitch that allowed Austin Barnes to score and pushed Betts to third.
When World Series Most Valuable Player Corey Seager grounded to first, Betts beat the throw to the plate as he always seems to and gave the Dodgers the lead.
“Mookie looked at me with a little smile. We were pretty happy to have Snell out of the game," Roberts said.
Betts added a solo home run in the eighth inning. He was 21 of 71 (.296) in the postseason with nine extra-base hits, eight RBIs, 15 runs scored, six stolen bases, and a series of game-saving catches in right field.
Betts flung his cap in joy as the game ended and raced to join his teammates.
“This time I knew what to expect but my goals, my motives were a little different,” he said. “I was traded for for this reason. I’m proud of myself; proud of the guys for accomplishing it.”
The Rays could atone for their strategic mistake as soon as next season. That the Red Sox traded a transcendent player like Betts will haunt them for years to come.
Betts also delivered a championship for Roberts, a manager no longer haunted by previous October setbacks. They quickly found each other after the game and hugged.
“I just knew we weren’t going to be denied this year,” Roberts said.
It also was a night of validation for Clayton Kershaw, an ace who was missing only a championship on his Hall of Fame resume.
The Dodgers breaking through is what will ultimately be remembered. But Cash’s decision will resonate within the game.
Anderson had pitched nine times previously in the postseason and allowed runs in seven of those games. He also gave up two runs on four hits in two prior appearances against the Dodgers in the Series.
“The lineup the Dodgers feature is as potent as any team in the league,” Cash said. “I felt Blake had done his job and then some. Mookie up the third time through, I totally value that … it was not an easy decision.”
Analytics have transformed baseball, often for the better. Its emergence has helped even the field for low-budget teams, including the Rays, and created opportunities for undervalued players.
But it also has peeled away a layer of humanity, taking away the ability to make decisions in the heat of the moment. The drama that fuels sports gets distilled out in the name of risk aversion.
“I was really locked in,” Snell said. “I did everything I could to stay in that game.”
Cash said he respects differing opinions but did what he thought was right. He wanted to give the Dodgers a different look.
“I regret it because it didn’t work out,” Cash said. “But I thought the thought process was right.”
Once the Dodgers had the lead, they locked it down. In all, Roberts used seven pitchers to hold the Rays to five hits. They stuck out 16 with two walks.
Julio Urias retired the final seven Rays in order for the save. He had a brilliant postseason, pitching 23 innings over six games and allowing three earned runs.
Roberts hoped righthander Tony Gonsolin would be able to go five or six innings. He didn’t get through two.
Randy Arozarena lined a slider over the fence in right field to give the Rays a lead two batters into the game. Austin Meadows singled and Brandon Lowe drew a walk, which got the Dodgers bullpen going.
Gonsolin managed to leave those runners stranded. He put two more runners on in the second inning before Dylan Floro struck out Arozarena.
Arozarena was 29 of 77 with 10 home runs, 14 RBIs and 19 runs scored in the postseason. The 25-year-old Cuban did all he could to carry the Rays, but it was not enough against Betts and the Dodgers.