The Ji-Man Choi era with the Tampa Bay Rays is officially over as the team dealt the longtime fan favorite to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
We get it. Choi was getting more expensive, entering his third year of arbitration, so the always budget conscious Rays were bound to part ways with Ji-Man. Also, the Rays were needing to clear room on an extremely crammed 40-man roster and with several candidates coming up through the system to take over the first base duties, Choi’s place on the roster seemed redundant.
Although the reasoning behind parting with Choi is sound, it is still the end of an era for Rays fans.
Choi has played in the 5th most games at first base in Rays history and his 52 homeruns have him tied for 3rd among players who spent the majority of their time at first base for Tampa Bay.
Let’s take a minute to reminisce on his most impactful trips to the plate during his time with the Rays.
Below are his top 5 plate appearances in a Rays uniform sorted by WPA (Win Probability Added), plus two postseason performances serving as honorable mentions.
2020 ALDS Game 1 - 0.211 WPA
Ji-Man Choi just excels against Gerrit Cole. It was among the many storylines being watched as the two sides met each other in what turned out to be a storybook playoff series. With the Rays trailing by one, Choi launched a homerun that would give the Rays a 3-2 lead. Unfortunately, they lost the game, but eventually took the series in five games.
2020 ALCS Game 5 - 0.246 WPA
A game tying homerun in the 8th inning against Josh James of the Houston Astros. Although the Rays went on to lose this game, the homerun was an epic moment for Choi and the Rays. They eventually pulled through and defeated the Astros in seven games to punch their ticket to the World Series.
#5: 9/24/2019 - 0.357 WPA
In a pitchers’ duel that featured a combined 20 hurlers from both teams, Ji-Man Choi ignited a raucous celebration at home plate and finally sent the fans home from the dome happy as he launched a 12th inning walk-off homerun against Cory Gearrin of the New York Yankees.
#4: 9/6/2020 - 0.367 WPA
Thanks to the Manfred Man, the Miami Marlins took a 4-3 advantage against the Rays in the 10th inning of a contest. However, their lead was extremely short lived, as Choi immediately tied the game as he doubled to bring home the Rays Manfred Man. Brett Phillips would pinch-run for Choi and ultimately come around to score to give the Rays the victory.
#3: 9/20/21 - 0.451 WPA
With the team trailing 3-1 in Detroit, Choi was brought in to pinch-hit with the bases loaded and two away. The Rays offense had been mounting opportunities all game long, but the Tigers had been able to squelch those attempts. Choi would come through this time however, lacing a ball in center field just barely beyond the diving attempt of Derek Hill. Choi successfully cleared the bases to give the Rays a 4-3 lead. It wasn’t to last though as the bullpen imploded and the Rays went on to lose, 10-4.
#2: 8/18/19 - 0.457 WPA
Just one inning prior to this event, the Rays had been trailing the Tigers, 4-1. A leadoff walk in the 8th for Choi would serve as the catalyst for a comeback victory. Tommy Pham would homer to bring the game within one run. Then, in the bottom of the 9th, the bases were loaded for Choi with one away against Joe Jimenez. Choi shot a ground ball straight back up the middle to bring home two runs and give the Rays a walk-off, 5-4 victory.
#1: 9/10/18 - 0.903 WPA
Brad Hand for a time was among the most dominant southpaw relievers in baseball. So things were certainly looking bleak for the Rays as Cleveland brought on Hand to close out a game at the Trop in the later days of the 2018 season. Hand set down the first two hitters he faced with ease, but Tommy Pham was able to shoot a groundball through the right side to put the tying run on base and bring the potential winning run to the plate.
Enter Ji-Man Choi.
On the second pitch of the at-bat, Choi took a center-cut fastball and promptly deposited it into the right field seats for a walk-off two run homerun.