On Monday I kicked off a countdown of the top five games in Tampa Bay Rays history in terms of WPA (Win Probability Added).
“Win Probability Added (WPA) captures the change in Win Expectancy from one plate appearance to the next and credits or debits the player based on how much their action increased their team’s odds of winning.”
Basically, it shows how much a single player contributed to a win. The spectrum usually ranges from .001 to .999 and in some extreme cases (16 times since 2000) it has been above that.
Thanks to Baseball Reference's Play Index, I am able to go through the several thousand box scores in baseball history and find the best performances on any given day, for WPA. The highest WPA ever recorded was 1.503, put up by Art Shamsky of the 1966 Cincinnati Reds. His team did not, however, manage to win the game despite his effort, so winning is never a certainty just because a player has an incredible day, as we will see in this case.
#3 – Aubrey Huff’s late inning heroics are not enough
August 31st against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field
Win Probability Added - .868
In late August, 2004 the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays were in a ferocious battle to determine who would finish the closest behind the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in the American League East. Since the Rays inception in 1998, they had held sole ownership of the basement in the division, but now they were finally close enough to another team take the coveted fourth and maybe even third place in the AL East.
The Rays were 59-71 while the O’s held a record of 58-71, so they were a half game back of the Rays in the division…and meanwhile were also 22 games back of the New York Yankees. The Toronto Blue Jays were in last place with a record of 54-77.
The game started off poorly for Huff and the Rays as the Orioles took an early 3-0 lead. Aubrey had harmlessly popped out during his first two plate appearances, including once with the bases loaded. However, in the bottom of the fifth inning, things changed.
With two outs and Julio Lugo on second base, Huff stepped in against Baltimore’s starter, Bruce Chen. Huff took a first pitch strike, and then watched three straight balls to make it a 3-1 count. On the next pitch, Huff laid into one and sent it off of the Batter’s Eye restaurant in center field for a two run blast making it a 3-2 game in favor of the O’s.
As the game went on Baltimore tacked on a few more runs, but so did the Devil Rays. As the bottom of the ninth opened the Orioles were clinging to a 5-4 lead. Baltimore’s Manager, Leo Mazzilli, turned to his closer, Jorge Julio, to nail the game shut. He looked well on his way to doing so as he struck out the first two batters he faced, Julio Lugo and Randall Simon. But then Aubrey Huff stepped back up to the plate, having one hit (the home run) in four plate appearances.
After a first pitch ball, Huff took Julio’s next pitch and unloaded a blast to the left-center field gap that cleared the wall for a two out, game tying home run. It was Huff’s 25th.
After an uneventful 10th, the Orioles regained the lead in the top half of the 11th and again came within one out of a victory. In the bottom of the 11th, the Rays were down by one, once again as they trailed 6-5. This time, Dave Borowski was in the game for the O’s and he quickly retired the first two batters he faced (albeit on 13 pitches).
The Rays did not go away quietly,though, as Julio Lugo singled and then Brook Fordyce drew a walk to place runners on first and second with two outs for who else but Aubrey Huff.
Huff responded by taking the next pitch and lacing it into right field for a base hit. The speedy Lugo scored easily from second base; however, the not-as-speedy Fordyce was easily thrown out at third for the final out of the inning. Nonetheless, Huff had come through once again and tied the game, forcing yet another inning.
The Orioles, tired of Huff’s shenanigans, decided to pour it on against the Rays 2003 all-star, Lance Carter. Baltimore homered twice off of Carter and ended up plating four runs.
The Rays did try to make it interesting one more time as Jose Cruz Jr led off the bottom of the 12th with a double. With one out, Carl Crawford scorched a ball right to the short stop who was able to step on 2nd to retire Cruz and finally end the game, giving the Orioles a 10-6 victory.
Aubrey Huff ended the day with a 3-6 performance with two homers and the game tying single in the 11th. He tallied four runs batted in on the day. Aubrey Huff finished the year having slashed .297/.360/.493 with 29 home runs, giving him a total of 4.5 fWAR and a 120 wRC+ over 157 games.
When the season ended, the Rays had finished with the best record in franchise history at 70-91 and for the first time in franchise history, they had avoided the cellar, finishing in fourth place.