First off, I want to apologize for the ads that these highlights contain. Apparently, MLB is going broke and needs the money. Who knew? I do thank them for allowing us to go back and relive these huge moments in 2014 as we gear up for the next exciting season that is just around the corner. It’s probably best to open each video in a new tab, fyi.
Using Baseball Reference‘s super awesome play log we can go back and look at which plate appearances swung games the most. Often, these are walk off hits, but there’s a few where the hugeness of the moment didn’t need the certainty of a win to make them even bigger. I will be using WPA for these as this takes into account the Rays probability of winning before the batter came to the plate and then measures how this single plate appearance changed the team’s fortunes.
# 10 Shelley Duncan April 3 WPA = 0.37
While his time in the Show was short-lived this Tom Petty doppelganger was able to turn the tide of at least one game in the first week of the young season. It’s the bottom of the 6th and the Rays are down 4-1 with two outs and and runners on first and third. Luis Ayala has just given up a single to Longo and is down 1-0 to Duncan after missing inside with a slider. His second spinner couldn’t have been placed any better for a bad-ball hitter:
Then this happens:
#9 Sam Fuld August 13 WPA = 0.38
Ultimately, the Rays were unable to win this interleague game against the D-Backs, but the diminutive Sam Fuld (RIP) did everything that he could to keep the team in it. Down 7-6 in the top of the 7th, Sam comes to the plate with runners on 2nd and 3rd and two outs. The Matchup Tool think Sam is good for around a .234 wOBA against Thatcher, but Sam don’t care bout no stankin’ stats. He rips a first pitch cutter that’s only a strike to him and maybe Eddie Gaedel to drive in both runners and put the Rays up a run:
Sam shows that a big hit doesn’t necessarily have to be a BIG hit and how about the great slide by Longo just ahead of the tag:
#8 Ben Zobrist August 14 WPA = 0.39
Just a week later we come upon the 8th biggest hit of the year for the Rays. Ben Zobrist is facing Seattle closer Danny Farquhar with an expected wOBA of around .324. The Rays are down 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth with nobody on and nobody out. After taking a really good strike and laying off two that weren’t even close Ben gets a cutter he can handle:
Off the bat it looks like a no doubter, but there ends up being all sorts of doubt and a misplay by Ackley allows Ben to stride into third with a stand up triple.
#7 Ben Zobrist July 10 WPA = 0.39
Finally, our first walk off. Ben steps to the plate looking to end a marathon game with runners on first and second and two outs in the bottom of the 13th of a 3-3 game. Ben’s expected wOBA against Ryan Pressly is a very solid .345, but after taking a first pitch curve the pitcher gets a favorable call on the second pitch to even the count. The next two pitches are in the zone, but Ben battles to keep the count at 1-2 before lacing a single on a pretty tough curveball:
I will never tire of the words, “Rays Win, Rays Win!” even if it’s been far too long since I heard the phrase.
#6 Desmond Jennings May 28 WPA = 0.39
Chad Qualls is a guy that has built his career on killing righties. As Jennings strides into the box we have an expected wOBA of .300 which is pretty weak. Desmond doesn’t let that stuff bother him as he walks it off in the bottom of the 9th of a 6-6 ball game against the Marlins. The pressure was high with runners on first and second and two outs, but Desmond is as cold as ice as he laces an 0-1 sinker the other way off the pitcher specifically brought in to face our young center fielder. It probably helps that he just saw the exact same pitch:
Man, do I miss a good mobbing at the plate:
#5 David DeJesus September 18 WPA = 0.42
Check out that Win Probability graph. DeJesus didn’t win the game single-handily, but in a huge moment against a team the Rays would end up needing an extra game against just to even make the “playoffs” DDJ came through when it mattered against an elite pitcher in Joe Nathan. Nathan is so good that that platoon advantage didn’t even mean a whole lot as DeJesus had an expected wOBA of merely .273, but baseball is the best because you never know what’s going to happen. In the bottom of the 11th with two outs and Freddy Guzman on second and trailing 3-2 David was in an even count of 2-2 before unleashing the fury on the one mistake Nathan made in the at bat:
THERE WAS A FIREFIGHT!!!! DeJesus tied the game allowing the Rays to reload and come away with a huge win when it mattered most.
Possibly even bigger was the catch he made in the top of the inning. How many times to you see a guy make a stunning defensive play and then go get a big hit?
#4 Jose Lobaton August 18 WPA = 0.43
We have to go a month prior to a back and forth pitcher’s duel for our fourth biggest hit of the year. Lobaton will be remembered most for his big homer in the ALDS to win game three against the Red Sox, but here we see a similar result for the Ice Cream Man. We find ourselves in the bottom of the 10th of a 1-1 game with one out and nobody on. The expected wOBA was around average at .313 which is a bit surprising with how good Lincoln has been in his brief career. After seeing three fastballs that weren’t close, though the third one was called a strike somehow, Lobaton walks it off on the last pitch of the game:
This no-doubter allowed the Rays to pull one out in what proved to be a difficult August that saw the team go only 11-15. To paraphrase the late, GREAT Richard Pryor we ain’t dead, yet, bish.
#3 Matt Joyce May 18 WPA = 0.44
Another game that falls on the 18th, though this time much earlier in May. That month can only mean one thing, Matt Joyce must have done something huge. With the Rays on the road in Baltimore there’s no chance for a walk off, but that didn’t stop Matty from doing damage against the Baltimore closer Jim Johnson. The Rays were down 6-5 with one out and the bases juiced fuller than A-Rod. Joyce has an expected wOBA of .319 against Johnson. After battling hard against everything JJ had Matt is able to line one over second to plate the go-ahead run:
FIRE THEM ARROWS!
#2 Wil Myers June 22 WPA = 0.50
Wil’s first homer couldn’t have been bigger. Not from a distance viewpoint as it barely cleared the wall thanks to some help from Brett Gardner on a high flyball to the opposite alley (thanks New Yankee Stadium, too!!). The Rays were down 3-1 when he walked to the plate with the sacks packed and two outs. CC Sabathia is known as a good pitcher, but Wil had an expected wOBA of .333 known as the half-Antichrist in some circles. The big man nibbled on the inner edge both up and down before making a mistake right in Wil’s wheelhouse:
You play with fire and you’re going to end up burnt and though the Rays went on to piss this one away it turned out to be just a brief glimpse of what was to come from the newest Ray superstar.
#1 Evan Longoria May 11 WPA = 0.91
That WPA figure means that when Evan came to the plate in the bottom of the 9th with two outs and a runner on first the Rays had around a 9% expectancy of winning this game. With stud closer Huston Street on the mound most Padres fans would have expected it to be even less and expected wOBA tends to agree projecting a .295 wOBA. FOR NAUGHT, says the face of the franchise. After spitting on two pitches that weren’t close and taking another that was borderline in a good spot Evan got the spinner he was waiting for:
Street missed his spot pretty badly and Evan knew just what to do with this mammoth shot with Hittracker showing a true distance of 448 feet. What a freaking beast.
I hope you enjoyed this look as we all start to get ready for the memories to come. They’re so close now. Also, give me a fucking break with your commercials, MLBAM. Jesus tapdancing Christ.