World Series 2020: Don't count out the Rays; after Dodgers dominate Game 1, Tampa Bay punches back

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

ARLINGTON, Texas -- In a game they had to win -- as the Los Angeles Dodgers took their chances using a bunch of relievers instead of a traditional starter -- the Tampa Bay Rays finally came through at the plate on Wednesday, ruining any early thoughts of a Dodgers sweep in the World Series. The 2020 coronation of baseball's best regular-season team is on hold after the Rays' series-tying 6-4 win in Game 2.

The Rays did it with the long ball -- second baseman Brandon Lowe homered twice -- but also by collecting eight other hits and running the bases and creating opportunities. It's the kind of offense manager Kevin Cash wants to see more of.

"We've been missing that in some games," Cash said after the victory. "We've won some games without having that. We have a complete offense. I know they've been quiet."

Quiet doesn't really tell the full story. Subtract rookie Randy Arozarena from the equation and the Rays were hitting well under .200 for the postseason. In Game 2, the difference-makers came from the left-handed part of their lineup, a particular weakness for the Rays in the playoffs. Lowe drove in three runs, the same number third baseman Joey Wendle brought home. Coming into the night, Tampa Bay lefties had compiled a lousy .556 OPS in October. That jumped to .583 in what was perhaps a series-saving victory.

"If they win tonight, we're down two games to none and it's a completely different outlook in the series," Wendle said. "Now we have a little momentum going ... and then obviously we feel good coming into Game 3 with [Charlie] Morton on the mound."

Let's face it, the Rays were cooked if they had lost Game 2, especially if they had blown a 5-0, fifth-inning lead, with starter Blake Snell holding the Dodgers hitless through the first four. As an indication of just how out there the Dodgers were with their pitching on Wednesday, they became the first team in World Series history to have seven different hurlers record at least three outs. Bullpen games sometimes go as planned, but in reality -- with so much at stake -- Los Angeles set up the Rays for success. Just two batters in, Lowe broke out of a horrendous slump with his first home run, and Tampa Bay never looked back.

Lowe was asked if he felt his team sent a message to anyone who thought the Dodgers were going to use Game 1 as the formula for a quick series win.

"To an extent," he responded. "I don't think anyone in our clubhouse thought this series was over. It was one game, and they had a future Hall of Famer [Clayton Kershaw] on the mound."

And that's why a Game 2 win was so important. Because that Hall of Fame pitcher will be back on the mound in Game 5, but only after righty Walker Buehler takes the mound in Game 3 on Friday and lefty Julio Urias starts Game 4. Those latter two pitchers are a combined 5-0 with a 1.29 ERA this postseason. Barring a meltdown on the mound, those games won't be featuring a merry-go-round of relievers like Game 2 did.

"It's going to have to be everyone contributing, like you've seen all year," Wendle said. "They have some special talent over there on the offensive side of the ball. But we're confident in what we can do, as well. You saw a lot of that tonight."

Wendle is right about needing the whole-team approach to continue. The best thing about Game 2 was that Arozarena didn't have to carry the Rays like he has most of October. Maybe Wednesday was the confidence boost the offense needed heading into more dangerous waters against those Dodgers starters. And if Cash deserved criticism for some of his pitching moves in Game 1, he deserves praise for staying the course with his best hitter all season as he worked his way out of a slump. Lowe woke up in a big way with two opposite-field homers.

"It shows there's no quit and it doesn't matter who's up at the plate," Lowe said. "It's a scary lineup to face, and we have a lot more to prove."

He couldn't be more right about that last thought. The Rays have to prove they can score with the Dodgers for at least three more games or they'll be right back to where they were after Game 1 -- behind the eight ball. Then again, the Rays might not have to score six or more come Friday in Game 3. They have their own playoff ace going, as Morton can match Buehler pitch for pitch -- at least during games in the fall. Morton has a career 2.84 ERA in October.

So the Rays did what they had to, what they needed to and what they planned to when the Dodgers announced their pitching plans. Los Angeles' Tony Gonsolin, Victor Gonzalez, Dustin May and Joe Kelly came up short in the dreaded bullpen game while breathing life into Tampa Bay. And now the Rays are the home team for the next three games.

Series on.

"It was nice to see the offense come to life," Cash said. "You have to be tough-minded. A lot of our guys are. You feel for them when it's not coming as easy as you like."