ARLINGTON, Texas — The Los Angeles Dodgers were brewing a familiar formula, one they’ve regularly used to win games since late July, in Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday night.
They had chased Tampa Bay Rays starter Blake Snell before the end of the fifth inning. Their pitching had kept them within striking distance. The final step was having their prolific offense deliver some late-inning punishment to steal a victory.
But the Rays are not like any of the previous teams the Dodgers have faced in 2020. The Rays are run-prevention specialists featuring a deep, versatile, velocity-happy bullpen. It's the reason why Tampa Bay entered the night 34-0 when leading after the seventh inning in 2020.
On Wednesday, that bullpen was tested, but didn't fold as the streak improved to 35 straight wins in the Dodgers' 6-4 loss at Globe Life Field. The result evened the series at one. Game 3 is scheduled for Friday at 8:08 p.m. EDT.
The Rays, a low-budget operation that has defied its financial shortcomings by relentlessly challenging conventional baseball thought, are credited with first implementing openers. It began as an experiment in May 2018 — not because it was considered an ideal approach but because they lacked enough effective starting pitchers. The best pitchers are the ones that throw the most innings — the conventional starting pitcher. Failed starters become relievers.
So it's no surprise that Game 2 featured an opener in a bullpen game. The surprise was that the Dodgers, the club with the second-highest payroll in the majors and five seemingly capable starters, opted for the strategy after Clayton Kershaw's dominant six innings in Game 1.
The Rays rode Snell, the 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner, into his fifth inning when his no-hitter became an abrupt exit. The Dodgers, meanwhile, used seven pitchers and none logged more than two innings.
Tony Gonsolin made his second postseason start Wednesday, but he was on just two days' rest. The Dodgers' pitching plan didn't include him logging more than two innings. He was an opener to a bullpen game.
Gonsolin failed to reach the Dodgers' goal for him. The second hitter he faced, Brandon Lowe, was an All-Star second baseman mired in a deep slump. Lowe entered the night 6 for 56 in the playoffs. He made it 7 for 57 with a solo home run to left-center field for the game’s first run. It was the third home run Gonsolin allowed in his first 7⅓ postseason innings after yielding two homers in 46⅔ innings during the regular season.
Gonsolin walked Manuel Margot to begin the second inning. Margot then stole second base before Joey Wendle lifted a flyball to center field that traveled far enough for Margot to tag up and advance to third base. That ended Gonsolin’s appearance, after allowing a run in 1⅓ innings. Dylan Floro was summoned with a man on third base and escaped with some help from poor Rays baserunning.
The Dodgers benefited from bad decisions on the basepaths by the Atlanta Braves in each of the last three games of the National League Championship Series. In the second inning Wednesday, the Rays' followed in their footsteps.
First, Margot, with one out, broke for home on contact on a groundball to shortstop Corey Seager despite the Dodgers' infield being drawn in. It couldn't have been an easier play for Seager. Two outs.
Next, Willy Adames, who had reached on the fielder's choice, tried stealing second base. He was initially called safe before the call was overturned after a replay review. Inning over.
The Dodgers were on their third pitcher, Victor Gonzalez, when a mistake cost them. Ji-man Choi hit a groundball that should've resulted in an inning-ending double play, but Kike Hernandez bobbled the ball and the Dodgers only got the runner at second base.
The gaffe brought Margot to the plate and Dustin May to the mound as the Dodgers' fourth pitcher. Margot singled to right field. Joey Wendle then whacked a two-run double to give Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead. The Rays padded the margin again in the fifth inning when Lowe clubbed a two-out, two-run home run off May for his second homer of the night.
Snell appeared on his way to five no-hit innings when Hernandez worked a two-out walk. The Dodgers, as they have all postseason long, busted through the opening for a two-out outburst. Chris Taylor followed the walk with the Dodgers' first hit: a two-run home run. Mookie Betts then walked before Seager singled. The sudden surge prompted Snell's exit. He went from a no-hitter to disappointment in four batters.
Nick Anderson struck out Justin Turner to limit the damage, but the Dodgers didn't relent.
Will Smith connected on a solo home run off the hard-throwing Anderson in the sixth. Two innings later, Seager smashed a 425-foot home run to straightaway center field. It was Seager's seventh of the postseason, tying the Rays' Randy Arozarena for most in the tournament, and his seventh at Globe Life Field, the most in the ballpark's short history by any player — Texas Rangers included.