Baseball is such an amazing game. On any given night, one player can have the game of their career and perform better than anyone else in the sport.
These performance can come from the players you least suspect capable of breaking out, but in the end, it could be that performance that meant the difference between a victory or defeat.
Over the past decade the Rays had many such performances from those that you’d expect, the likes of Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist. However, also appearing on the forthcoming list will be Ryan Roberts and Yunel Escobar, as well as four other players who spent time with the Rays at various times over the past 10 years.
Enter with us into small sample size theater.
Employing FanGraphs split tool, I filtered the Rays for the past 10 seasons searching for the highest wRC+ in any given game (where the player had at least 4 PA) and the results are glorious. Here are the top 10:
10. Kelly Johnson - 760 wRC+
May 27th, 2013 vs the Miami Marlins - 5 PA / 4 H / 2 HR / 6 RBI / 2 R / 1 SB
Kelly Johnson started out the 2013 season at a sluggish pace, with an OPS just over .700 at the end of April. However, as the calendar turned to May, Johnson began to surge and heading into play on May 27th, Johnson was hitting .324 and slugging .620 during the month.
May 27th would serve as the exclamation point for his fantastic page of the calendar.
Jose Fernandez carved up Kelly Johnson during his first plate appearance, striking out him out. Johnson came back up in the bottom of the second, and the Rays had already gotten to Fernandez for three runs. Now, there were runners on 1st and 2nd with two down in the inning. Johnson quickly fell down again, 1-2, but this time he would have the last laugh against Fernandez as he launched a ball deep into the seats in right-center field for a three run home run.
Later on in the game, after Johnson had a Tropicana Field aided double, stole a base and a single, he would step up to the plate with runners on 1st and 2nd again. Johnson would once more launch a ball deep into the right-center field seats for another three run blast to end his offensive contributions for the game.
9. Wil Myers - 761 wRC+
September 4th, 2013 vs the Los Angeles Angels - 4 PA / 3 H / 2 HR / 3 RBI / 2 R
One of the most highly anticipated prospects in Tampa Bay Rays history, Wil Myers had made his presence known in the middle of the Rays lineup immediately after his promotion to the big leagues in late June. After his 42 games in the show, Myers possessed an OPS of .923. Unfortunately, he would soon run into his first big league slump as he saw that OPS dip to .796 after hitting just .167 over his next 21 games.
That sets the stage for Myers to bust out of his slump in a big way. After a two hit game the day before, Myers didn’t wait around and pounced on the first pitch he seen. Myers hit the ball a mile as it flew well over the center wall and bounced into the ivy covered boulders for a solo homerun.
Later on in the game, Myers’s solo homerun served as the only run scored in the game. Myers was now at the plate with Desmond Jennings on second with one away in the 7th inning. Jared Weaver fell behind 1-0 and tried to get back in the zone. Myers jumped on the pitch and sent it soaring through the air and beyond the left field wall. The ball soared over the Angels bullpen and landed in backend of the Rays bullpen, a truly tremendous blast. Myers would add an infield single in the ninth to finish outs his offensive day.
8. Ryan Roberts - 761 wRC+
April 22nd, 2013 vs the New York Yankees - 4 PA / 3 H / 2 HR / 2 RBI / 2 R
You probably didn’t expect to see Ryan Roberts on here, but the tatted up infielder had himself quite the game against CC Sabathia. After falling behind into an 0-2 count in the first inning, Roberts crushed his first home run of the 2013 season into the left field seats to give the Rays an early advantage.
Fast forward to the third inning and Roberts faces Sabathia for the second time and replicates his first inning blase with another solo shot that cleared the left field wall for his second homer of the day. Roberts would add a single in the fifth and grounded out in the 7th to finish out his evening.
7. Ben Zobrist - 763 wRC+
June 9th, 2012 vs the Miami Marlins - 5 PA / 3 H / 2 HR / 4 RBI / 4 R / 2 BB
Carlos Zambrano started a game against the Tampa Bay Rays with Will Rhymes leading off. That happened!
So, of course, the Rays offense exploded and put up 13 runs.
Ben Zobrist was a key contributor for Rays. After walking and coming around to score in the second, Zobrist launched a two run bomb in the third inning to chase Zambrano from the game.
Zobrist was back up in the fifth, this time facing former Devil Ray Chad Gaudin, and delivered another blast that just barely cleared the right field wall for Zobrist’s second home run of the game. Zobrist would lace a single later on in the game and then walk in his final plate appearance, reaching base all five times he came to the plate.
6. Yunel Escobar - 795 wRC+
May 16th, 2014 vs the Los Angeles Angels - 4 PA / 3 H / 1 HR / 1 RBI / 1 R / 1 BB
In the third inning in Los Angeles, Jered Weaver had set down the Rays in order and seemed well on his way to taming the Rays and delivering another perfect game against the no-hitter prone Rays of the early 2010’s.
Then Yunel Escobar lined a ball in left field to end those hopes.
Escobar would be stranded and the game remained scoreless, and came back up in the 5th, with his single being the Rays lone hit thus far. Escobar quickly fell behind 0-2, but Weaver made a mistake and Escobar punished it as he sent the pitcher soaring into the air and beyond the center field wall for a solo home run.
By the 7th inning, Weaver had learned to fear Escobar and intentionally walked him. To cap off his night, Escobar singled again in the ninth inning in his fourth and final plate appearance.
5. Travis d’Arnaud - 859 wRC+
July 15th, 2019 vs the New York Yankees - 5 PA / 3 H / 3 HR / 5 RBI / 3 R / 2 BB
A meeting between the two top teams in the American League East. Travis d’Arnaud started the game off with a bang as he led off the top of the first with a solo home run to right field, giving the Rays an early 1-0 advantage.
Top of the third, history repeated itself as d’Arnaud launched another solo shot to right field, landing in almost the exact same spot as his first inning blast.
Fast forward to the ninth inning and the Rays trailed 4-2, with d’Arnaud’s home runs being their lone offense. The Rays had two runners on, but were also down to their final out and fearsome flamethrowing Yankee closer, Alroldis Chapman was on the mound. d’Arnaud had also collected a couple of walks during the night.
d’Arnaud battled with Chapman for seven pitches until Chapman came at him with a 3-2 slider that was off the edge of the plate. d’Arnaud reached out and squared up the hanging breaking ball and popped it up to right field. However, this being Yankee Stadium, the ball just carried and carried until it just barely cleared the right field wall for a go-ahead three run home run.
4. Yunel Escobar - 905 wRC+
September 11th, 2014 vs the New York Yankees - 4 PA / 3 H / 2 HR / 4 RBI / 2 R / 1 BB
This game was just fantastic for the Rays. Alex Cobb was dealing and had a no-hitter going into the eighth inning and Yunel Escobar was providing all the offense they needed.
Escobar singled in the second and then in the top of the 4th, with two runners on, Escobar walloped a pitch into the left field seats to give the Rays a 3-0 lead.
Later on, in the 7th, Escobar launched another dinger, this time a solo shot into the left field seats. Escobar would walked in his fouth and final plate appearance of the night in the 9th inning.
Unfortunately, this all came in a losing effort as the Yankees ended Cobb’s no-hit bid in the eighth and then shelled the Rays bullpen, walking off the game in the 9th.
(I recommend you stop watching at the 1:12 mark...fair warning)
3. Sean Rodriguez - 920 wRC+
September 1st, 2010 vs the Toronto Blue Jays - 4 PA / 3 H / 1 HR / 1 3B / 1 RBI / 1 R / 1 BB / 1 SB
During his first trip to the plate, Sean Rodriguez drilled a ball into the right-center field corner and hustled his way around the bases for a stand up triple. However, he’d be stranded after Brad - Rays drafted Blake Snell because of him - Hawpe struck out to end the inning.
No matter, Rodriguez ensured he’d make it that extra 90 feet during his next at-bat as he blasted a pitch deep into the seats in left field for a solo home run and knotting the game up at one. Rodriguez then singled in the 7th and promptly stole second. But, again he would be stranded.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Rays had taken the lead and the Blue Jays had begun to fear the bat of Rodriguez, so he was intentionally walked, ending his offensive night.
2. Steven Souza Jr - 939 wRC+
April 6th, 2016 vs the Toronto Blue Jays - 4 PA / 4 H / 2 HR / 1 2B / 4 RBI / 2 R
Steven Souza had quite the game against the Toronto Blue Jays, kick starting his season with some impressive numbers.
He blasted a ball off the wall in right-center field during his first trip to the plate, resulting in a double. He’d be stranded and the Blue Jays took the lead in the following inning. Soon after, Souza came up again and drilled another ball. This time it landed just short of the left fielder and Souza would be held to a single.
Now in the 6th inning, Souza came up and belted a blast to straightaway center field. Kevin Pillar ranged back and appeared to have a shot at catching the moonshot, but just barely missed as the ball fell just past his glove and caromed off the wall and over the fence for a solo home run.
Souza was back up in the eighth, this time with two runners on and the Rays trailing 3-2. Then, a sound as if a cannon went off, Souza launched a ball to deepest part of Tropicana Field and christened the Ducky’s Deck in left-center field for a go-ahead three run home run.
1. Evan Longoria - 947 wRC+
October 3rd, 2012 vs the Baltimore Orioles - 4 PA / 3 H / 3 HR / 3 RBI / 3 R
It was an emotional time at the Trop in October of 2012. The Tampa Bay Rays had just been eliminated from playoff contention, despite fielding one of the best teams in franchise history. One of the main reasons for the Rays missing out on the postseason was an early season injury to Evan Longoria, which kept him on the shelf for over three months.
Now, the final game of the season had arrived and the night before, James Shields delivered one of the finest performances you’ll ever see in what was likely his last outing as a member of the Rays — and it came in a losing effort, a real shame.
Evan Longoria set the tone early as he hammered the first pitch he seen from Chris Tillman and sent it into the left field seats for a solo home run. In the bottom of the fourth, it was more of the same for Longoria against Tillman as he crushed another pitch and sent it deep into the left field seats.
With Longoria due up again in the sixth, the Orioles turned to Jake Arreita, but he wouldn’t fare much better as Longoria barreled a pitch from him and drilled it beyond the center field wall for his third home run of the day.
With a shot for his fourth blast, Longoria couldn’t quite come through as he bounced out weakly to end his offensive contributions for the game, but with enough damage done to have given the top single-day performance in Rays history.