Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chiam Bloom helped to build the Tampa Bay Rays’ American League championship team before leaving for Boston in 2019. AP Photo/Gregory Bull

Saturday night the Tampa Bay Rays held off the Houston Astros to win Game 7 of the American League Championship Series and advance to the World Series for the second time.

One of the pivotal moves of the night was when Kevin Cash took starter Charlie Morton out of the game when he put two on in the sixth inning. It’s not surprising to see a starter come out of the game early in the postseason. Managers have quick hooks in the playoffs.

Yet Saturday’s pitching change was shocking. Morton is Tampa Bay’s highest-paid player, making more than the rest of the Rays’ starting rotation combined. More importantly, prior to the sixth inning he hadn’t allowed a baserunner since the first. Yes, he was in a jam in the sixth, but he had only thrown 66 pitches and was one out away from escaping.

Cash knew this, but he also knew the Rays stick to a very strict script when it comes to pitching changes. He hasn’t had a starter go more than six innings this postseason, and he wasn’t about to start now.

“That’s what we do,” Cash said after his bullpen recorded the final 10 outs to eliminate Houston and advance. “We believe in our process and we’re going to continue doing that.”

In real time, Twitter erupted in a crescendo of criticism for Cash and the Rays.

Taking out a team’s ace while he is throwing a two-hit shutout goes against more than 100 years of baseball wisdom.

But the analytics of today’s game called for a quick hook. With the information he had, Cash didn’t want Morton facing the red-hot Michael Brantley (.346 with three home runs and 11 RBI in 13 playoff games this year) a third time. He brought in Nick Anderson, who retired Brantley on two pitches.

The analytics were right. Cash used his brain and didn’t go with his gut. And we were reminded that this was how the Rays put together the best season of any American League team in 2020.

Now they face the Dodgers in the World Series. Los Angeles is run by Andrew Friedman, the former head of baseball operations for the Rays. He has taken the same approach west and augmented it with a lavish payroll. That’s how he was able to add the likes of Mookie Betts and other superstars and to re-sign Clayton Kershaw to augment a roster filled with underpriced talent.

That’s exactly how the Boston Red Sox are going to be able to contend for a playoff spot soon. Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom learned from Friedman and helped build this current Rays team before coming to Boston a year ago.

Like Friedman, Bloom has more money at his disposal, but there is no doubt he will work on spending it more intelligently as opposed to more lavishly. The Rays had the third-lowest payroll in baseball this year, and had to knock out a Yankees team that was being paid about four times as much. They did, beating New York in a decisive fifth game.

“They are a better franchise than we are right now,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman said after the series.

There aren’t a lot of superstars on the Rays’ roster. They use everybody, with platoons at practically every position. The rely heavily on their bullpen.

And they’re not hesitant to trade away big-name players while they’re at their peak. David Price, Ben Zobrist and Chris Archer are just a few of the players who were dealt to bring in players on this pennant-winning roster.

Opportunistic trades. Shrewd free-agent signings. An analytics-based approach to game management. For the better part of baseball history they are not hallmarks of championship teams.

But times have changed. It’s how the Rays got to the World Series. And it’s how the Red Sox are going to try to challenge them in the years to come.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column runs on Tuesdays in the Portland Press Herald.


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