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Thursday, Oct 18, 2018
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Blake Snell wins major-league-leading 20th in 4-0 win over Rangers

ARLINGTON, Texas — One of the things that has made Blake Snell so good this season for the Rays is his refusal to be satisfied with anything he does.

No matter how well he pitches, he finds flaws in his performance and identifies something he can perform better. Regardless of whom he beats, he insists the next opponent will present even more of a challenge. Whatever achievement he reaches, he declined to acknowledge it with much more than a gratuitous shrug.

So Tuesday, after he reached the major milestone of 20 wins, he certainly didn't want to make too much of what it meant to him.

"It's cool," said Snell, 25.  "It means we've been playing good team baseball when I pitch. Guys have been helping me swinging it, playing defense, the bullpen has been coming in clutch. And I've been doing well as well. There's a lot. I haven't thought about it honestly."

In part, that's because Snell is adamant the Rays are still playing for more than individual accomplishments, the 4-0 win over Texas improving them to 84-66 and moving them to within 5½ games of Oakland, which lost to the Angels, for the final American League playoff spot, albeit with only 12 games left.

Snell joined David Price as the only 20-game winners in Rays franchise history. And he put himself in what recently has been a small club overall, the first to 20 this season after no one got there in 2017 and only nine total in the four seasons before that.

Snell's bosses and teammates know how big of a deal it was.

"Pretty special that he got his 20th win and 200th strikeout on the same day," manager Kevin Cash said. "He deserves all the credit that he's getting right now. People are noticing for good reason."

" 'Twenty-game winner,' not too many people do that, and it will get harder,'' said pitching coach Kyle Snyder. "As far as he's concerned, I hope he wins 21 or 22.''

Snell wasn't particularly sharp in logging No. 20, lowering his ERA to 1.97 and striking out five to get to 200 Ks, all of which will also further his candidacy for the American League Cy Young Award.

"To go and get the wins he has against some really, really strong teams and what he's done recently has to put him in strong consideration,'' Cash said.

Though Snell allowed only one hit and two walks he was limited to five innings against the Rangers because he threw 92 pitches to get there, 58 for strikes.

"I don't want to sound ridiculous and say that he probably wasn't his best today because he shut a team down for five innings," Cash said, "but we've see Blake better. He battled through his command a little bit."

To get to 20 wins, Snell has beaten the Red Sox three times, the Astros and Indians twice, and the A's and Yankees once each, all told making 12 starts against the five highest-scoring teams and posting a 9-2, 2.00 mark, allowing one run or fewer eight times.

Overall, Tuesday marked his eighth straight win (by starts and decisions) and his 19th start, of 29 overall, allowing one or no runs.

Snell's success is even more impressive when you consider how far he has come, posting a 5-7, 4.04 mark during a rough 2017 season in which he was twice sent to the minors.

He's the first pitcher to get to 20 in the season after winning five or fewer games, since Johnny Cueto came back from 2013 injuries to win 20 in 2014, and the first in the American League since Cliff Lee in 2007-08.

As is requisite,  Snell got help from his friends Tuesday.

A three-run rally in the fourth started with a Kevin Kiermaier walk followed by Willy Adames' 10th homer of the season, then back-to-back doubles by Jesus Sucre and Joey Wendle. They added on in the seventh, Wendle doubling again as part of a four-hit night and scoring on a Ji-Man Choi groundout.

And once the Rays got him the lead, even on a night he wasn't sharp, Cash saw something else special.

"You could tell he was grinding a little bit," he said. "He really wanted to make sure he was able when we got him the lead to keep it there and give himself a chance to win the ballgame. And ultimately he did."

When Snell got the clubhouse after doing an on-field TV interview, those same teammates were waiting to celebrate loudly with him and present him a game ball.

That did mean something.

"It's cool that I get the 20 wins under my name, but it's a total team effort, and I have a lot of them supporting me to get these wins. Without them hitting, without them playing defense I can't win. So it means a lot to me and it's very special."

An evolution in critical thinking and advancements in statistical analysis have diminished the value of wins in evaluating the performance of pitchers since so much of the outcome is out of their control.

But reaching 20 is still considered by many to be a major milestone. And a memory to cherish.

"Shoot, I remember everything about it,'' Price, now with the Red Sox, said of his Sept. 30, 2012, start in Chicago, 172 games, nearly six years and four teams ago. "We scored a couple runs in the first inning, B.J. (Upton) hit a two-run homer. I went seven (innings) and gave up two.''

No matter where you stand on how much wins matter, getting to 20 definitely takes a group effort. There was a distinct buzz in the clubhouse before that game against the White Sox, Upton and others talking openly about how they were going to get it done for Price. And then backing it up, as Desmond Jennings led off the game with a triple, and two pitches later Upton launched a homer to left.

There was more team sharing later.

"After the game, everybody was so pumped up for me,'' Price said. "We still had a fighting chance to make the playoffs that year even though we didn't. They asked me to make a speech, and I told them how much I appreciated everything that they had done for me that year. Every fifth day we always got the best out of our defense, we always got big hits, especially whenever we needed them.''

Price is a huge admirer of what Snell has done this season. And he isn't the only ex-Ray keeping tabs.

"The first time I saw Blake he was at Triple A, barely sweating to get through five innings. The dominance is similar,'' said Matt Moore, now working as a Rangers reliever. "It's really cool to see him doing what he wants to do. … It's fun to watch Blake pitch.''

With all the success Snell has had, with all the nice things people are saying about him, the answer to how he doesn't focus on it may tell us how he is so good.

"I'm focused on the team winning and I'm focused on the playoff push that I still think we have and we have a really good shot at doing so," Snell saiad. "There's so much other things I've got to focus on. I've got to focus on Toronto next and what I have to do to succeed against them because they're a good lineup. I faced them before and I did very well. That just means they're going to want to do that much better against me and that means I have to be more prepared for them.

"There's a lot of things I look at. I don't focus on the individual things. I won't do it. When the season ends then I will do it by myself or with my family and people that are close to me. But right now the focus is on us getting to the playoffs and really trying to make that push."

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