It may have backfired on Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash, but pulling Blake Snell when he did was the right move.
A quick look at the score would have led one to think that Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash had lost his mind. The Rays were clinging to a 1-0 lead in the top of the fifth inning, with ace Blake Snell on the mound, and Cash went to the bullpen. That decision turned out to be disastrous, as the Astros broke through for four runs in the frame.
But sometimes, just looking at the score can be misleading. Snell was already at 82 pitches through his four plus innings, and had not exactly been sharp throughout. He had allowed two hits and three walks prior to the start of the fifth, throwing 71 pitches by the time the inning began.
The start of that inning was not what Cash wanted to see. He began the inning by walking Yuli Gurriel, then allowed a base hit to Aledmys Diaz to put runners on first and second. That would be enough, as Cash summoned Diego Castillo from the bullpen.
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One can understand why. Snell had not been exactly sharp during the outing, and the Rays were looking to put an end to the Astros season. Castillo had been one of the Rays best relievers in the regular season, and had an impressive postseason track record – in his 13 playoff innings, he had yet to allow a run while striking out 18 batters.
What Cash could not have known is that Castillo had nothing left. His previous dominant outings were just a memory, as he did not have a feel for his breaking ball and his fastball was just mediocre at best. The 1-0 lead quickly became a 4-1 deficit by the end of the inning as Castillo gave up his first playoff runs.
Maybe the moment was too much for Castillo. And maybe Cash overthought the situation, the analytics failing him at the worst possible moment. But one could see what he was hoping for – a knockout blow that would end the Astros momentum and put the Rays into the World Series.
Instead, the Tampa Bay Rays are left to wonder “what if.” Should the Astros come all the way back, the decision to pull Blake Snell, as right as it was in the moment, could haunt them all offseason.