Rays enjoy 'special night' at All-Star Game

Zunino, Wendle and Kittredge play key roles in victory over NL

July 14th, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG – When the All-Star Game rosters were initially revealed on July 4, the Rays only had one representative on the American League team. But Tampa Bay wound up being quite well-represented Tuesday night, and the defending AL champions made their mark in the AL’s 5-2 victory at Coors Field.

Catcher , elected to the roster by his fellow players, caught the final five innings and homered in the sixth. Infielder , who joined the roster as a replacement on Saturday, singled to center and made a few nice plays at third base. Reliever , who arrived in Denver on Tuesday morning as a last-minute addition, pitched a perfect seventh inning.

And manager Kevin Cash, along with the rest of the Rays’ coaching and support staff, led the AL to its eighth straight victory in the Midsummer Classic.

“Pretty special for all the Rays, everybody that got in,” Cash said. “Z hitting the home run, Joey getting a hit and making a couple nice plays and Kitt coming in and doing his thing for an inning. Great representation for our organization.”

Here’s what each of Tampa Bay's players did to make an impact on Tuesday night.

In his first career trip to the All-Star Game, Zunino, who slugged 19 homers in the first half, did what he’s been doing all season: Hit the ball really hard and really far.

Facing Mets right-hander and former Mariners teammate Taijuan Walker with two outs in the sixth inning, Zunino crushed an 0-1 fastball out to right-center field. It was the second home run by a Rays player in an All-Star Game as Zunino joined Carl Crawford, who homered off Francisco Cordero in the 2007 Midsummer Classic.

That moment came with Zunino’s family in attendance -- including his father, Greg, a longtime scout for the Reds. Greg worked in the Reds’ Draft room in Cincinnati the last two days, flew out Tuesday morning and made it to Denver to watch his son enjoy his long-awaited moment in the All-Star spotlight.

Zunino’s first All-Star homer traveled a Statcast-projected 433 feet with an exit velocity of 106.6 mph, the fifth-hardest-hit ball of the game. There was one thing different about this blast for Zunino: All 19 homers he’s hit this season, and just about every other ball he’s put in play, has gone to left or center field. Naturally, he went deep to the opposite field in the All-Star Game.

“Taijuan [was] bumping it up a little bit, so I was probably just a little bit late,” Zunino said, laughing.

Zunino caught five different AL pitchers, including Kittredge, and made a nice -- perhaps a little fortunate -- play to throw out Omar Narváez in the ninth. A slider from Liam Hendriks slipped past Zunino and caromed off the brick backstop, returning in just the right spot for Zunino to fire an on-target throw to second baseman Whit Merrifield for the first out of the inning.

“It was a heck of a lot better catching them than it is facing them. No, it’s fun,” Zunino said. “It’s a special night being able to see all those guys show off what they can do.”

Wendle knocked a single to center off Alex Reyes in the eighth inning, but the dependable infielder’s best moments probably came in the field. He made a nice play to his left behind Kittredge in the seventh to retire Chris Taylor, and he also snagged a line drive hit by Jake Cronenworth in the eighth.

He said the highlight of the experience was sharing it with his family, but he allowed himself a few moments of fandom. He made sure he got two-way star Shohei Ohtani’s autograph, for instance, and said it was “surreal” to see Ken Griffey Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero Sr. on the field during the festivities.

Wendle admitted the Rays' contingent may not have attracted quite the same level of attention -- “your average, everyday fan probably has never heard of any of the three of us, honestly,” he said -- but said it was special to take part in his first All-Star Game with Zunino, Kittredge and the rest of the staff.

“I think it's been fun. The rest of the league kind of gets a taste for what the organization's like, what the staff is like, stuff like that,” Wendle said. “It's pretty cool to share.”

As part of a planned All-Star break family trip to Disney, Kittredge was eating dinner at the Rainforest Café on Monday night with his wife, Tobey, and 2-year-old son, Brooks. Kittredge said Brooks was getting fidgety waiting for the mini-hot dogs he ordered, as 2-year-olds tend to do, so father and son went for a walk around the restaurant.

That was when Cash called. The night before the game, Kittredge had been named an All-Star.

“Being that we had just planned this little mini-hotel stay at Disney, I told Cash, I said, 'I need to ask my wife.' Even though I knew what she was going to say, I said, ‘I’ve got to call you back,’” Kittredge said. “So I went and asked her, and she said, 'Of course you’re going to the All-Star Game.'”

They finished eating, packed up their room and traveled back home, preparing to fly to Denver on Tuesday morning. Kittredge said they arrived around 12:30 p.m. MT, only a few hours before he took the mound and, with Zunino behind the plate, retired all three hitters he faced in the seventh inning.

“To see him come here and do what he did is no surprise,” Zunino said. “We know it as his teammates, but it was cool to see it on this stage.”

Indeed, it was more of the same for Kittredge, who owns a 1.47 ERA in 32 outings and has pitched in every inning from the first through the 11th for the Rays this season. Seemingly bound for Tommy John surgery when he walked off the mound at Fenway Park last Aug. 11, Kittredge instead rehabilitated his right arm and earned a spot in the Opening Day bullpen as a non-roster invitee.

Kittredge has come back better than ever, and now he has the All-Star appearance to prove it.

“I would say that it’s a dream come true, but I don’t think I could have ever dreamt of it,” Kittredge said. “It was just fun. It was a cool atmosphere pitching, knowing that the game doesn’t really count for much. Just out there for the fans, out there just having fun with my teammates.”