There has never been a night quite like last night for the Tampa Bay Rays.
In a true game of back and forth between the two heavyweights of the American League East, it was a must-win game for the Rays.
Enter Travis d’Arnaud.
The Rays quietly acquired d’Arnaud back in May after a slew of injuries depleted their catching corps. Earlier in his career, d’Arnaud was among the best catchers in the game, but he hit a brick wall in 2018 when he tore his UCL and missed the entire season. Then, once he returned earlier this season, the New York Mets released him after playing in just 10 games. He went to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a plate appearance, before the Rays came a calling and acquired him.
After joining the Rays, d’Arnaud’s struggles continued...at least for a little bit. During his first 10 games in a Rays uniform, d’Arnuad collected just one hit in 23 trips to the plate. However, since then — May 23rd — he has absolutely blistered the ball. During this time, d’Arnaud has hit .327/.382/.636 with 9 HR in 123 trips to the plate. His offensive numbers are some of the best in the majors over the past several weeks.
Now that the appreciation of d’Arnaud is out of the way, let’s take a moment to celebrate his three blasts from last night.
Taking his spot at the top of the lineup in the first game a crucial series against the Yankees, d’Arnaud worked the count full against Yankee southpaw James Paxton. Finally, on the 3-2 offering, d’Arnaud took a center-cut fastball and launched the ball to the right field vortex that is Yankee Stadium.
The ball soared and landed several rows deep to give d’Arnaud a leadoff homerun and the Rays a 1-0 lead.
According to StatCast, the drive went 386 feet and left the bat at 101.3 mph.
In historical context, d’Arnuad leadoff blast was just the 2nd leadoff home run from a catcher since the start of the 2011 season. It was the third leadoff blast by a catcher in Rays’ franchise history, with John Jaso providing the other two during the 2010 season.
That was just the start to d’Arnaud’s night.
Entering the top of the 3rd, the Rays still held the 1-0 lead and d’Arnaud was up again against Paxton.
With the count 1-0, d’Arnaud received another center-cut fastball, almost exactly the same as the pitch he received in the first inning and it provided the same result.
d’Arnaud launched a ball again to the right field vortex of Yankee Stadium and the ball sailed over the wall and several row deeps once again.
The StatCast measurements were nearly identical to his first blast, as d’Arnaud sent the ball 379 feet this time and it left the bat at 101.7 mph.
It was the second time this season that d’Arnaud had a multi-homerun game and just the 12th time in franchise history that a catcher had launched more than one home run in a game.
Entering the top of the 9th, the Rays hopes for a win were on life support. The Yankees had scored four unanswered runs. d’Arnaud came up against Yankees flamethrowing southpaw Alrodis Chapman with two runners on and two outs, with the score, 4-2, in favor of New York.
d’Arnaud swung through a 101 mph fastball from Chapman to start the at-bat; that’d be the lone Chapman pitch that d’Arnaud would miss.
As the battle raged on, d’Arnaud kept spitting on Chapman’s breaking pitches and fouling off the triple digit velocity, until the count reached 3-2.
On the eighth and final pitch of the at-bat, Chapman went with another breaking ball and d’Arnaud was not fooled.
He waited for the pitch to break near the zone and swung a mighty swing and connected the barrel to the ball and lifted a lazy fly ball to right field.
Fortunately for the Rays, this was Yankee Stadium and a ball that had a xBA of .160 just kept carrying and carrying until Aaron Judge ran out of the room and the ball landed in few rows in right field for a go-ahead three run home run to give the Rays a 5-4 advantage. The Rays would take the eventual victory.
It was just the fifth time since start of the 2005 season that a catcher has gone deep three times in a single game and just the 5th time in Rays franchise that a player as gone deep three times — last time it was done by Evan Longoria in 2012.
With the victory over the Yankees, the Rays are now 56-40 on the season and five games back of New York for the division lead. They’ll play the second game of their four game set tonight, with d’Arnaud likely leading off against against CC Sabathia; we shall see what d’Arnaud has in store for an encore performance.