Baseball’s been around since the mid-1800s so it’s rare that you get to see a feat that’s never been done before. It’s even more rare when you get to see that happen in person.
The Boston Red Sox had just beaten the New York Yankees to advance to the Division Series. Their reward? Travel to Tampa to face AL East champions and winners of a franchise-record 100 games: The Tampa Bay Rays.
Smack dab in the middle of new stadium negotiations, as well as potentially playing half their regular season games in another city, the defending American League champions are unfazed. It’s as if these ballers on a budget didn’t get the memo that the 29th smallest payroll out of 30 Major League teams isn’t supposed to reach the World Series nor compete with the Boston Red Sox.
Well, they’ve done both.
For an area that gets a lot of grief for not supporting its baseball team, in person at least, the Trop was in full force on Wednesday night for Game One. 27,000 strong. Long gone are the days when Red Sox fans outnumber Rays fans. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of chowderheads in the mix, there always are, but Rays fans easily out-louded Sox fans all evening long.
They had good reason to as the Rays went up 2-0 in the first inning and never looked back, thanks in large part to the 26-year-old Cuban phenom named Randy Arozarena. Technically still a rookie, he quickly became a fan favorite last year by hitting 10 post-season home runs. In Game One, he added another and is only one behind Babe Ruth for most post-season home runs within a 20-game span.
You know you’re doing something special when you’re mentioned in the same breath as the Sultan of Swat. Wednesday night, Arozarena did something no major leaguer had ever done. With two outs in the seventh inning, Arozarena reached first base after drawing his second walk of the night. He advanced to third after a Wander Franco double.
And then it happened. Note: see video below.
With Boston relief pitcher Josh Taylor barely paying attention and nobody keeping Arozarena on third, the speedster took off for home. By the time Taylor realized what was going on, Arozarena was half way to home plate. He easily slid under the tag, making him the first player in Major League history to hit a home run and steal home base in a post-season game.
Javy Baez stole home for the Cubs in the 2016 post-season but prior to that, it hadn’t been done since Jackie Robinson. When you start throwing names like Robinson and Ruth around, you’re in some pretty elite company.
After every big offensive inning, which was basically every at-bat for Arozarena, he would return to left field with the crowd loudly chanting “RAN-DY! RAN-DY!” He loved every minute of it, acknowledging the fans and firing them up even more. He has quickly reached cult hero status in Tampa Bay, deservedly so.
Not to be outdone, batting second in the Rays line-up is Wander Franco who this season flirted with breaking yet another major league record: most consecutive games reaching base safely for a player under 20 years old. Franco’s 43 game streak tied Frank Robinson.
These young Rays fear not the moment. They don’t care that the Red Sox make over three times as much as them. They don’t care that they’re not supposed to be here, again. They’re confident that they are the better team no matter how many zeroes are left off their paycheck and nothing will convince them otherwise, especially not the history they are slowly rewriting.
Want another example of the Rays’ brass balls? Starting in Game One was a young left-handed rookie named Shane McClanahan. This wasn’t Max Scherzer versus Adam Wainwright. This is a young man who was eight years old when Wainwright hit the Majors. Was he intimidated by the Boston Red Sox? Striking out the side in the first was a surefire indication he was not. His final strike clocked in at 100 miles per hour.
And so, the Rays took Game One, one step closer to their ultimate goal of redemption for falling short last year. These guys don’t care what major markets stand in their way. They want that ring.
We will see if they fulfill that destiny. Until then, here are some sights and sounds from a dominant and entertaining Game One.