PEORIA, Ariz. — Blake Snell wants to let it go, and certainly, the Tampa Bay Rays and Kevin Cash would gladly reciprocate, but no one will let them.
It has been 127 days since The Decision, but even with Snell on a new team, on a different coast, and in a different league, the subject refuses to fade.
Snell, who made his spring-training debut Wednesday for the San Diego Padres, his first start since being prematurely pulled out of Game 6 of the World Series for the Tampa Bay Rays.
And, of course, he was asked about it.
“I mean, everyone knows about it, but I understand,’’ Snell said after his scoreless inning. “It was a big moment in sports so it’s going to be talked about for a while. That’s just how it is.
“Hopefully, it goes away. Will it? Who knows. I know when the World Series comes back next year it will continue to be talked about.
“We’re in a new year, and with a new team. We need to win a World Series. That’s my focus, at least.’’
It all sounds good, but Snell isn’t naïve. It’s not going away. Not in spring training. Not in the regular season. Not until he’s finally permitted to pitch past the seventh inning for the first time since 2018.
And certainly not until the World Series.
The decision to lift Snell when he was pitching a two-hit shutout in the sixth inning of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers will forever haunt the Rays and Cash. Just as Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner was never forgiven for the grounder squirting through his legs in the 1986 World Series and umpire Don Denkinger for his blown call in the 1985 World Series, Cash’s blunder will live in infamy.
Snell, in his own words to The Players Tribune, was “making history.’’
“I don’t think I’m bragging or exaggerating or whatever in saying that I was dealing in that game,” he said. “I mean, I was on. I just was. Anyone who watches baseball will tell you that.
“I was pitching the game of my life that night.’’
Snell was about to face the top of the Dodgers’ lineup for the third time that evening. Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and Justin Turner were due up. They were hitless, striking out all six times at the plate.
Snell, with one on and one out, stepped onto the mound to face Betts. He looked over his shoulder and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Cash walked toward him, signaled to the bullpen, took the ball from Snell’s hand, and brought in reliever Nick Anderson.
It took six pitches to turn a 1-0 Rays’ lead to a 2-1 deficit. Three innings later, it was over. The Dodgers were celebrating on the field, hoisting the World Series trophy, leaving a baseball fraternity stunned that a decision based on analytics ruined a potential historic night.
Cash was asked about the decision again Tuesday during the ESPN broadcast, and again defended it, saying, “it was the right decision, but the wrong result.’’
“I still don’t understand it,’’ Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols says. “I know they say it worked during the regular season, but this is a different story, buddy. This is now. You’re talking about the World Series. This guy is pitching the game of his life, and they take him out.
Snell, the 2018 American League Cy Young winner, still can’t believe it, but refuses to dwell on it. It doesn’t do him any good. No one cares in San Diego. Yet, the moment he starts going deep into games, and is even permitted to throw a complete game, the furor will be relentless.
“He’s probably happier than hell he got traded to San Diego,’’ said former Cy Young winner Frank Viola, the 1987 World Series MVP. “Now, he can show people what he can do going deep into games. It’s a shame what happened to that kid that night. Tampa Bay was trying to revolutionize the game. I don’t get it. It’s crazy.’’
It’s no longer Snell’s problem. The Padres aren’t going to put limits on him. He’ll be permitted to pitch through the lineup three, maybe even four times a game, providing his pitch count stays down.
Simply, they are going to let him be who he is, refusing to suffocate his potential.
“I want to see what’s inside me,’’ Snell said. “The only way to really see that is to go deep into games when you’re starting to be a little more fatigued. Once I get deeper into ballgames, I’ll become a lot better at being a complete starting pitcher. …
“I can’t wait to be the best version of myself that I can be, and help this team win a World Series.’’
Just as he envisioned a year ago.
Only this time, with no one coming out of his own dugout to stop him.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale