Tuesday night at Petco Park, the Tampa Bay Rays evened up the American League Division Series with a strikeout-laden win over the New York Yankees (TB 7, NY 5). Tampa’s pitchers struck out 18 batters, a new postseason record for a nine-inning game. The best-of-five series is now tied 1-1. Here’s how you can watch Game 3 on Wednesday.

The Yankees started top prospect Deivi Garcia in Game 2 but did not stick with him long. They used him as an opener — Garcia gave up a solo homer in Randy Arozarena in a 27-pitch first inning — then went to veteran lefty J.A. Happ as the bulk innings reliever. Happ allowed four runs in 2 2/3 innings and made it clear he was not on board with the plan after the game.

“All things equal, yes (I would have preferred to start),” Happ told reporters, including NJ.com’s Brendan Kuty. “Having said that — and this is important — I want to repeat: When I’m in there, you’ve got 100 percent of me. So I gave it what I had. I wasn’t worried about when I was coming in. I was trying to execute, I was trying to focus, I was trying to pitch.”

When pressed on whether he felt he was put in a position to succeed, Happ said it is “not a question for me to answer” even though it pretty obviously is a question only he can answer. Without actually saying it, that is as good an indication you’ll get that no, Happ did not feel he was put in a position to succeed in Game 2, and that is damning. A veteran resisting your plan should prompt you to reevaluate your plan, not make the pitcher go through with it anyway, especially in the postseason.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone confirmed the plan was to use the righty Garcia to get the platoon happy Rays to start their lefty bats — they had five lefties in their starting lineup, including three in the top four spots of the order — before making the switch to Happ, who is still effective against lefties but struggles against righties. It was a bait-and-switch attempt.

“Their roster is built to take the platoon advantage,” Boone told reporters, including ESPN’s Marly Rivera. “Felt like I was going to go to J.A. pretty early and aggressively if they went with a lefty-heavy lineup, and that was the reason. It was a little lineup-based, but (Garcia) kind of labored a bit in that first inning. But that was the plan all along.”

It’s hard to square that with Happ warming up only a handful of pitches into the game. Either Boone and Yankees determined very quickly that Garcia didn’t have it — Arozarena’s homer came on Garcia’s 19th pitch of the inning — or they were planning to go to Happ earlier than they’re letting on. Whatever happened, it didn’t work, and the Yankees lost Game 2.

The pitching plan — Garcia as an opener with Happ as the bulk innings guy — was an organizational decision that involved Boone, pitching coach Matt Blake, and the front office. The problem is Happ was not on board with it. To make something like that work, you need buy-in from the players, and Happ did not buy in. He was out of his comfort zone and it showed in the results.

Also, because there are no in-series off-days during the LDS and LCS this year, the Yankees effectively burned two starters in one game. The rest of their ALDS starting pitching looks something like this:

Tanaka in Game 3 is confirmed and Cole on short rest in Game 5 was always the most likely outcome. Cole has never started on short rest in his career but said it wouldn’t be a big adjustment. When you have an ace like him and he’s willing to pitch on short rest in an elimination game, of course you use him. (The Rays have indicated Blake Snell will start a potential Game 5 on short rest as well.)

Montgomery had a very inconsistent regular season and finished with a 5.11 ERA in 44 innings. He allowed seven homers and five of the seven were multi-run homers, so big innings were a problem. Case in point: Sept. 2 against the Rays. The Rays tagged Montgomery for four runs (two homers) and he did not make it out of the first inning. It was his only start against Tampa in 2020.

Game 2 was Garcia’s first game action in 10 days — he was not needed in New York’s Wild Card Series sweep of Cleveland — and he threw only 27 pitches, so bringing him back in Game 4 is possible. If Thursday (Game 4) is his start day, then Tuesday (Game 2) would have been his normal between-starts throw day, so that lines up. 

That said, it would be an aggressive move with a 21-year-old pitcher. The element of surprise is gone too, at least to some extent. Garcia had never faced the Rays prior to Game 2 and the top four hitters in their lineup have now gotten a look at him. New York’s options for Game 4 on Montgomery or Garcia coming off a Game 2 appearance. It’s not great.

“I talked to my coaching staff, the front office, and we’ve talked through different scenarios,” Boone told reporters, including MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, following Game 2. “Having a few days going into this series, we were kind of building out how we wanted to roll out our pitching.”  

It should be noted New York’s pitching options are what they are because they did nothing at the trade deadline. Luis Severino got hurt in spring training, Tommy Kahnle went down with Tommy John surgery in July, and James Paxton hurt his elbow in August (and looked terrible before that), yet they did not make a move, and stuck with their internal options. Their trade deadline inactivity has forced them to get creative — or attempt to be creative, more accurately — in October.

With their Game 2 plan, the Yankees crossed the line from aggressively managing their pitching staff to outsmarting themselves. Happ not being on board with the plan was a problem. So was burning Garcia, who was dominant at times in the regular season, after one inning. They could’ve let either guy make a normal start. Instead, they chose the third option.

The Yankees tried to out-Rays the Rays in Game 2 and it backfired in the worst way possible. They lost the game, burned out the middle of their bullpen — New York used four relievers after Happ exited the game — and left themselves without a great pitching option for Game 4, which could very well be an elimination game. It was a lose-lose decision that may haunt them all winter.

“You’re playing a unique team that does a really good job of building their roster to create platoon advantages,” Boone told Hoch. “We were just trying to counter that a little bit and force their hand early in the game. Unfortunately, it didn’t work.”  

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