How the other half lives.
Take the other night on the South Side of Chicago. In the fourth inning of a game against the first-place White Sox, Rays starter Tyler Glasnow felt a tug in his right elbow. Manager Kevin Cash opened his bullpen to protect the lead earlier than he would have liked. But when it comes to pitchers, the Rays, as former Tampa Bay skipper Joe Maddon put it recently, “just keep creating them like counterfeit bills.” McHugh had another metaphor: “A fun group of misfits,” he says. “Kind of like, we’ve all figured out how to get ourselves to the point to be good enough to get on the Rays team.”
“These are guys who are essentially written off by other organizations,” catcher Mike Zunino says. “Some of these guys were written off well before pro ball. There’s a hunger to those guys.”
So Glasnow gave way to Ryan Thompson, claimed a couple years ago in the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft, a lanky fellow who springs through his delivery like a side-arming jack-in-the-box. Next was two innings from J.P. Feyereisen, who had been acquired only a few weeks earlier, as part of a deal clearing a path for Franco that sent well-liked shortstop Willy Adames to Milwaukee. Then came Diego Castillo, the rare homegrown Ray. He leads the team in saves. Cash asked him to pitch the eighth. For the ninth, and the save, Cash chose Fairbanks, who was plucked from Texas two years ago when he had a 9.35 ERA. On another club, Fairbanks might be a full-time closer, with all the subsequent lucre available in arbitration. Then again, on another club, Fairbanks might not have an ERA hovering just below 2.00.
The relievers logged five scoreless innings. They scattered two hits and issued one walk. They struck out five. Tampa Bay won. The pattern of deployment looked chaotic. It was not.
“Our roles are defined,” Fairbanks says. “They’re just not defined in a typical sense. We know what we’re going to be asked to do on any given night. Is that in the old-head, baseball traditionalist sense? No. But we know what we’re going to be asked to do.”