Pa Jordan Shusterman
Posted by FOX Sports MLB

And we thought about Game 1 there was a pitchers duel.

Game 2 of the Wild-Card series between art Guardians and Rays set a new standard for pitching excellence — or pitching ineptitude — in the postseason, with a 15-inning marathon capped by one heroic swing by the rookie outfielder Oscar Gonzalez.

Scoreless through nine innings with just five combined hits, the Rays and Guardians headed to the bullpen without the benefit of an automatic runner on second base (a regular-season only rule). And so the bullpen continued to trade blows, with both offenses struggling for six more innings until Gonzalez broke through with a swing that sent Cleveland into the ALDS with Yankees.

It was only the second game MLB postseason history without a score through 12 innings, joining Game 1 of the 2020 Wild-Card series between art Red and Brave. The obvious difference between that game and this one: Two years ago, Atlanta had empty seats due to the pandemic. Conversely, on a cold Saturday afternoon in Cleveland, a crowd of nearly 35,000 gathered to watch this harrowing but exhilarating game for roughly five hours.

At least the fans went home happy.

What the Guardians liked

Let’s leave aside the fact that the Guardians offend did not hit the ball further than 300 feet for 14 innings before Gonzalez exits and focus on pitching. Tristan McKenzie set the tone with six strong innings, further establishing himself as one of the premier young righties in the American League.

It was fitting that another former Cleveland ace in CC Sabathia, who one of Mackenzie’s teachers, was in the house to see the 25-year-old dominate the postseason scene.

After McKenzie came the full experience of the Guardians bullpen. All seven relievers on the roster appeared and held the Rays scoreless through the seventh inning. It usually takes a few games in October for the bullpen to showcase everyone, but this was the kind of teamwork you’ll never see.

Special thanks to the great left-hander Sam Hentges for pitching the final three scoreless frames, including six strikeouts and zero walks, ensuring that manager Terry Francona would not have to call up any of his other starting pitchers in Cal Quantrill or Zak Plesak.

What went wrong for the Rays

It’s not that difficult: One nine-hit effort (eight singles and one homer) over 24 innings just isn’t going to cut it in almost any scenario, and certainly not in the postseason. Cleveland’s pitching deserves a lot of credit, but it’s not something the Rays didn’t have hitters capable of causing damage in this series – Randy Orozareno, Tramp Frank and Yandy Diazgood day!

But the Rays’ bats fell silent again and again. It’s a shame that their brilliant pitching was for naught, but it was clear even before the streak started that this team wasn’t as scary as some of the Rays’ other postseason squads.

Despite making the playoffs for the fourth straight year, the Rays finished 2022 with a seven-game losing streak and a heartbreaking loss in Cleveland. With the AL East only getting stronger, they will need to find more reliable sources of offense if they are going to compete again in 2023.

The key moment of the game

After five scoreless innings with Tyler GlasnowRays gave the ball to the right-hander Pete Fairbanks. After returning from a pinch-hitter that kept him out for the first three and a half months of the season, Fairbanks was one of baseball’s most dominant players in the second half, posting a 1.13 ERA in 24 innings with 38 strikeouts compared to three walks.

He seemed like the perfect guy to pick up where Glasnow left off and continue to shut down the Sentinels’ offense, but it was clear from his first pitch Saturday that flew over the catcher’s head that something was wrong. Two walks later, Fairbanks left the game, seemingly to tell the coach that he was did not feel his hand before leaving the field.

Jason Adamanother Rays player with huge numbers in the regular season (1.56 ERA in 63.1 IP), came in and immediately pitched Amed Rosario with his first innings. That created a bases-loaded situation for Cleveland’s star third baseman Jose Ramirezwho led off with two runs in Game 1. You couldn’t have created a better scoring opportunity for Cleveland.

But then: the Houdini act of all Houdini acts comes from Adam. He struck out Ramirez and then got it Josh Naylor ground into a double play. It was a harsh reminder to everyone watching — and playing — just how difficult runs can be in this game.

While Adam and Rays were ultimately unscathed by a sloppy sixth inning, Fairbanks’ early exit forced Kevin Cash to start looking at his top bullpen options earlier than expected. Had Fairbanks pitched a strong inning or two instead of leaving with zero outs, it’s possible the Rays could have lasted a little longer before moving on to their likely starter in Game 3 Corey Klaber.

Alas, Kluber (unsurprisingly) didn’t look as comfortable coming out of the bullpen for the first time in nearly a decade, and he ended up hanging Gonzalez’s throw into the left field seats.

What happens next

Cleveland advances to the ALDS to face the AL East champion Yankees in what should be an exciting contrast of styles. With Game 1 scheduled for Tuesday in the Bronx, it appears the Rangers will likely send Quantrill, who has quietly been an excellent No. 3 back Shane Bieber and McKenzie in what will no doubt be another great matchup vs Gerrit Cole.

It’s hard to feel so confident about a team that has struggled with this It’s a shame, even in two games, but if the Rangers continue to improve, they’ll have a chance against New York.

Jordan Shusterman is half @Cespede’s BBQ and baseball writer for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.

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