The Rays Pull Off a Wild Game 4 Victory

The 2004 movie Primer is widely considered the most complicated movie plot of all time. Two engineers travel back in time again — and again — and maybe before?? — and again in an attempt to mold events to their own benefit. It’s a truly ridiculous, convoluted mess — and it pales in comparison to what the Dodgers and Rays did last night in Game 4 of the World Series.

Let’s begin at the beginning. Ryan Yarbrough took the mound for the Rays, on three days’ rest after a relief appearance in the first game of the series, and he wasn’t sharp. He surrendered solo home runs to Justin Turner and Corey Seager, and scattered three other hits and a walk while striking out only one batter. He was out of the game in the top of the fourth.

Julio Urías, his counterpart, flirted with brilliance. He struck out nine Rays out of the 18 he faced, bullying the opposing lineup to the tune of 20 swinging strikes. Tampa Bay whiffed 17 times on his fastball alone, and his curveball accounted for another 10 called strikes. Naturally, the Rays tagged him for two home runs — a Randy Arozarena first-pitch ambush and a full-count moonshot from Hunter Renfroe. The Dodgers had added a run in the top of the fifth, so Urías left with a 3-2 lead.

LA added another run in the sixth inning,, and the game felt like it might start getting away from Tampa Bay in a hurry. The Dodgers bullpen isn’t airtight, but the Rays’ own bullpen hadn’t been able to slow down opposing hitters all series, and they were running out of good options to fill innings. What was the offense going to do, score six runs in four innings or something?

Well, about that. Dave Roberts called on Blake Treinen to start the bottom of the sixth. The righty sinker-baller was a natural fit against the reincarnated form of Joe DiMaggio Arozarena, Mike Brosseau, and Manuel Margot. Arozarena, though, dumped a single into center, and Ji-Man Choi followed up with a walk. Wait, Ji-Man Choi?

Kevin Cash had started the dugout wheels in motion. The Rays run an extensive platoon system, which means that they had a bench full of lefties. Brosseau hit the bench in favor of Choi, who drew a walk. Austin Meadows replaced Margot, but Treinen overmatched him with three straight breaking balls. That left runners on first and second for another lefty, Brandon Lowe.

Dave Roberts wasn’t going to stick with Treinen. He had to go to the bullpen, and after he’d just been burned by the three-batter minimum when bringing in Treinen, he seemed hesitant to bring in a lefty to face Lowe. If the inning continued, the next two batters were both right-handed, and they’d have the platoon advantage in a high-leverage situation.

Instead, he went with the relatively platoon-immune Pedro Báez, a righty who has been better against opposite-handed batters in his career. That seems like good strategy, except: why not just bring in a lefty and give yourself the best chance of retiring Lowe? Win that matchup — end the inning right there — and the minimum stops mattering. Some new reliever can come in to face the righties next inning.

Anyway — Roberts didn’t do that. He sent in a righty to face the Rays’ best lefty, and yep, Lowe detonated a three-run homer to put the Rays back in the lead. Báez recovered to get the last two outs, but uh… the Rays sent their best hitter to the plate, which Roberts countered by giving him a platoon advantage that also wasn’t his best righty reliever. Whoops, I guess?

Luckily for Roberts, his team picked him up. With runners on second and third and one out, stopper Nick Anderson entered and Cash started getting weird himself. After Anderson dispatched Will Smith, Cash intentionally walked Cody Bellinger to load the bases. Anderson then fell behind pinch hitter Joc Pederson and had to huck a fastball down the middle on 3-1. Pederson lined a single off of a diving Lowe’s glove, and just like that, the Dodgers were back on top.

It didn’t last long. Báez was somehow still out there — Kevin Kiermaier, another lefty, hit another home run to bring the Rays back into a tie. He escaped the inning after that, but just — that’s a lot of Pedro Báez in one game, and it didn’t pan out all that well at any point.

Anderson, too, struggled in his second inning. Despite Los Angeles’s best efforts to hand him outs — Enrique Hernández popped out on a sacrifice bunt attempt — the Dodgers offense couldn’t be stopped. Seager flared a single into left field, and they’d beaten Anderson twice; the Dodgers led again, and despite Roberts’ strange meandering bullpen management, they were six outs away from a commanding 3-1 lead.

Soon enough, they were only three outs away. The Rays’ plan of liberally using lefty pinch hitters left their lineup full of all-lefty pockets, and so Adam Kolarek, a lefty specialist, got to face Choi, Meadows, and Lowe. He got the latter two, and Brusdar Graterol then entered to finish off the inning.

When the Rays went out to the field for the top of the ninth, they did it in a novel defensive alignment. Roberts hadn’t been the only one using his bench in strange ways; Cash pinch ran for Choi in the bottom of the eighth, which left him totally out of first basemen. Renfroe, with exactly nine professional innings of experience at the position, took over. Luckily for Tampa Bay, John Curtiss got three fly outs, but even still, the Rays were down to their last three outs.

Then things got weird. Kenley Jansen came in for a three-out save and retired pinch-hitter Yoshi Tsutsugo. That left the Rays essentially bench-less; only catcher Michael Perez remained, and they were already playing in a stretched defensive alignment as it was. Kiermaier followed with a broken-bat single into center, Joey Wendle lined out, and it was time for the main event: Arozarena against Jansen with the game on the line.

Just one problem: the game wasn’t actually on the line. Due to Cash’s earlier machinations, Brett Phillips was batting after Arozarena. Jansen simply didn’t give Arozarena much to hit (though the 92 mph first-pitch cutter that stayed in the zone undoubtedly made Dodger fans nervous); why lose to the hottest batter on the opposing team when you can face off against their worst batter instead? Jansen surrendered a walk, but that was hardly the worst outcome there. Beat the light-hitting Phillips, and the Dodgers could go home happy.

Instead, an already-absurd game hit a fever pitch. Phillips hit a clean line drive to right, scoring Kiermaier to tie the game. Chris Taylor bobbled the ball, which sent Arozarena around third in an attempt to win the game then and there. Only one problem: he slipped and fell on the way home, which made an already-unlikely chance of beating the throw home downright impossible.

No one told catcher Will Smith that Arozarena had fallen, however. He tried to save the game for the Dodgers with a miracle tag, a grab-and-blind-stab to thwart Arozarena at the very last second. In doing so, however, he lost the ball, and there was no backup to be found; in the fracas, Jansen had somehow remained in the no-man’s land of the infield grass. A sheepish Arozarena simply stood up and eased home uncontested to end the game in Tampa Bay’s favor.

Where can you start with a game like this? Both managers got fancier than they needed to, and it showed. Cash got substitution-happy, and it almost cost him. Not only did he run out of pinch hitters, but he was forced to play a strange defensive alignment, and pinch-running for Choi removed a key bat while the team still trailed. Choi’s spot came up with the game on the line. His pitching management was just as overwrought; he burned through relievers so quickly that Blake Snell was in the bullpen warming up to cover extra innings. There was simply no one else.

Roberts was comparatively restrained, but somehow ended up with worse results. He had his entire bullpen rested, every arm ready to go — and in the biggest spot in the game, two men on and the Rays’ best lefty hitter at the plate, he brought in a righty. Then he left that same righty in to give up another home run to a lefty in the next inning.

He also, for whatever reason, continued his new love of bunting to disastrous effect. Nick Anderson has looked off all postseason, and he continued the trend last night, but Roberts quenched the fires a bit by calling for a sacrifice bunt. It wasn’t a great spot for a bunt, even had it worked, but instead it nearly rescued Anderson from himself. In terms of managerial meddling, it was worse even than Cash’s intentional walk to load the bases, almost as though Roberts wanted to return the favor after that strange choice.

Game 5 is tonight, and both front offices will no doubt counsel restraint from their managers. Even if it wasn’t optimal, however, Game 4 was a blast; a free-wheeling and see-sawing battle that saw both teams empty the tank for four straight hours. The stage is set for a great conclusion: a best-of-three series with no less than Clayton Kershaw taking the mound tonight, while the Rays counter with Tyler Glasnow. It probably won’t be as wild as last night, but it will still be excellent.

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
3 years ago

I will give someone a million dollars* to tell me what Brandon Phillips’ Championship Probability Added for that hit was.

(*I won’t. But I’d still like to know.)

3 years ago
Reply to  marz

Where do I send the bill? 🙂

3 years ago
Reply to  marz

Brett Phillips doesn’t hit nearly as well as Brandon Phillips, probably even today.

3 years ago
Reply to  marz