I really struggled with how to recap this game. The Rays beat the Yankees, 8-4, and the Yankees now play with their backs up against the wall, needing to win two days in a row to advance to the ALCS. Masahiro Tanaka was not good, Charlie Morton was, and the Rays beat the Yankees.
But boy, this game felt like one decided by the umpires. I hate to be one of those “blame the refs!” types, but between last night and tonight, it’s hard to argue that umpiring hasn’t had an undue effect on the results of these games. The Rays have played good baseball, don’t get me wrong, but too many times, the Yankees have had the bats taken out of their hands, or had to work extra strikes and outs, because the guys calling balls and strikes have failed in their work.
The key moment happened early. Morton was cruising, and the Yankees had scratched their first hits of the night, as Brett Gardner and Kyle Higashioka singled. DJ LeMahieu walked, Aaron Judge hit a sac fly, and then Aaron Hicks walked to re-load the bases. This is exactly how big innings happen, and the game was tied with the MLB home run leader at the plate.
It’s 3-0, and then Mark Carlson calls a borderline pitch strike one. Ok, fine, whatever, it’s a shadow zone pitch, half the time it’ll be called a strike, half the time it’ll be called a ball. The very next pitch, Morton throws outside, and that’s called a strike too. Voit now faces a 3-2 count, instead of being on first base and walking in the go-ahead run.
It gets more frustrating an inning later, where a strike to Willy Adames is called a ball. Higashioka throws a laser to second to catch a runner stealing, but because of the fourth ball, the out doesn’t count. The very next hitter iced the game for the Rays:
Kevin Kiermaier... GONE!!— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 8, 2020
Clutch shot to give @RaysBaseball a 3-run lead! pic.twitter.com/2aty5riSys
Tanaka didn’t pitch well, but he should have been sitting in the dugout before Kevin Kiermaier even came to the plate. Sometimes the game isn’t decided in the ninth inning. Sometimes the most important sequences come in the third or fourth. Between Carlson’s performance tonight and CB Bucknor’s last night, the umpires have been central to this entire series, and robbed fans out of a series that should be more competitive.
As former PSAer Andrew Mearns put it:
Difference in the game right here. Ball 4 to Voit should've given the Yankees the lead. Strike 3 to Adames should've been a strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play. Absolutely no consistency, which is maybe the most maddening. pic.twitter.com/hoz1ehlu2v— Andrew Mearns (@MearnsPSA) October 8, 2020
I’m going to stop talking about umpiring right now, but I do think, and hope, that MLB is going to take a real hard look at the validity of having the most important element of the game — calling balls and strikes — overseen by 60 year old men. MLB should be embarrassed by the performance of their officials in the most important, and most viewed, games of the year.
If this was the last time we saw Masahiro Tanaka in pinstripes, we all could have hoped for something more. He struck out the first two batters he faced, but that was as good as it got, as he gave up eight hits in four innings, with two home runs to boot. Tanaka’s at his best when he can work down in the zone and expand a few inches lower than the rulebook definition.
Instead he left far too many pitches up in the zone, and the Rays hit him, clubbing six balls in excess of 99 mph. His one walk, which as argued above, was perhaps not a walk, belies the fact that he just didn’t fool the Rays. You don’t need to walk if you can barrel the ball up, and the eight hits surrendered in four plus innings attest to that.
Giancarlo Stanton hit another home run, continuing his ludicrous playoff run. If you ever doubted why the Yankees jumped all over Stanton when he was on the trading block, you’re seeing the reason now. When the man is on, there isn’t a pitcher on the planet that can slow him down. If he homers tomorrow, he’ll tie the all-time record for most consecutive postseason games with a dinger.
The Yankees are not out of this series yet. They won two games in a row 22 times this season, beat a superior Cleveland pitching staff twice in a row, and that’s all they have to do now. Win two straight. The real work starts tomorrow.