For months, Rays fans had been calling for Joe Dillon to be designated for assignment, yet Average Joe continued to overcome the odds sticking to the Rays 25 man roster despite virtually no playing time. Players such as World Series starter Andy Sonnanstine and off-season free agent acquisition Joe Nelson were unable to stick on the roster, but Joe was there. Young prospects like outfielder Matt Joyce, shortstop Reid Brignac and pitcher Wade Davis continued to play in AAA Durham, but Average Joe could still be found in the Rays dugout conversing with Pat Burrell.
Dillon was acquired as the player to be named later in the trade that sent Adam Kennedy to Oakland. Dillon's uncanny roster perseverance came to an end over the weekend when he was designated for assignment so the Rays revolving bullpen could continue to grow. The reality is that the Rays had no role for Joe Dillon. With a Designated Hitter present in the American League, the need for pinch hitters is slim. The Rays are fortunate to have a good switch hitting pinch hitter in Willie Aybar available. With an all-star infield, two star outfielders, and a platoon that produces like a borderline all-star, there just were not many opportunities for Joe to get At-Bats. Instead he became Pat Burrell's late game pinch runner. If you are looking for late game speed, there certainly are better options than 34 year old Joe Dillon who has one career major league steal.
With 8 at-bats in the last 2 months, Dillon's usefulness and good fortune had become the butt of many jokes. However when given spots, Dillon came up with some memorable moments in key Rays victories. On May 29th, in a game better known as David Price's coming out party vs Minnesota, DH Average Joe led the offense in WPA going 2-4 with a Home Run off Francisco Liriano that tied the score at 1-1.
In a season where seemingly no one has been able to offer run support to James Shields, Joe Dillon found his time to step up on June 4th versus the Royals. This was the game Gil Meche had been out-dueling Shields 2-1 heading into the 8th inning. Reliever Jamey Wright entered the game for the Royals and Average Joe led off with a single. 3 batters later, B.J. Upton hit a 2 run blast putting the Rays in the lead for good at 3-2. However that was not Dillon's sole contribution to the game as he finished with 3 of the Rays 8 hits.
Dillon's next opportunity to play came two days later in New Yankee Stadium vs. C.C. Sabathia. Dillon again came up big going 3-3 with a Hit By Pitch. 2 of those hits came off Sabathia. The most memorable came in the 9th inning. With the score knotted at 5, the Sandman Mariano Rivera entered. Ben Zobrist led off the inning witha little late-inning-lightning in the form of a triple. Our Average Joe immediately followed with a go ahead RBI single off the greatest closer in the history of the game.
Following that game, playing time would be scarce for Dillon as Evan Longoria and Pat Burrell returned from injuries. Dillon would go 0 for his next 11 with a walk and another hit by pitch. But the Average Joe was not through. In his final performance with the Rays, Joe Dillon entered as a pinch runner for Pat Burrell in the 8th inning of a 2-2 ballgame. With the bench emptied, Dillon was forced to remain in the game at the Designated Hitter spot. In a game that will long be remembered for Evan Longoria's two home runs including the game winner in the 13th inning, and the Rays twice stranding the bases loaded with no outs, our Average Joe did his part. The Book has a chapter on the pinch hitting and designated hitter penalties, which basically say hitters will do worse in PH and DH situations than they would starting in the field. The Book does not touch on the size of the penalty for a pinch hitter that had not seen a live pitch in 15 days. That did not stop Average Joe from leading off the 10th inning with a base hit off Ramon Ramirez. It also did prevent Joe Dillon from leading off the 12th inning with a walk. In the scheme of things, that was an important walk. Without it, Longoria does not get a chance to bat in the 13th inning for his Walk Off blast. In a game that will be remembered for its offensive futility, Joe Dillon did his part.
Joe Dillon is 34 years old with 137 games on Major League experience under his belt. No other 34 year old American Leaguer has fewer than 700 games experience. He reminds me of the 39 year old NFL quarterback Jamie Martin who has carried a clipboard in the NFL for 17 years as a backup quarterback while starting just 8 games. Dillon does bring some useful skills. In 90 major league plate appearances he has OPSed .969 versus left-handed pitching. In his minor league career his OPS vs LHP is .923. His minor league BB:K ratio is 140:123. Strangely enough in the small but long tenured sample size that was Joe Dillon's 2009 Rays season he went just 3-19 vs LHP but 6-11 vs RHP with an OPS of 1.129. His overall slash line sat at .300/.400/.400 with 3 walks and 4 strikeouts. Not bad for a player often made out to be nothing more than a laughing stock.
I hope Joe Dillon gets another crack at the big leagues. No matter what happens, the Average Joe played a key part in a handful of Rays victories and his contributions deserve to be remembered if the Rays are successful in their quest to make the playoffs.