ST. PETERSBURG -- When the Rays acquired Hunter Renfroe from the Padres in January, the reasoning behind it was they believed the outfielder would give them a big-time power threat in the middle of the lineup, particularly against left-handed pitching.
Renfroe struggled offensively in his first regular season with Tampa Bay, but he made up for it -- and more -- with a second-inning grand slam against Toronto ace Hyun Jin Ryu in the Rays' series-clinching 8-2 win in Game 2 of the American League Wild Card Series at Tropicana Field on Wednesday. It was Renfroe’s first career postseason hit, and the first postseason grand slam in Rays history.
“Hunter, what a day,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Hunter is going to play a big role in this, and you can wash out what has taken place this season. We value him in our lineup, and certainly against left-handed pitchers. We know how valuable he is, and he showed it today.”
Renfroe hit .156 in 42 games during the regular season, but Tampa Bay will continue to start him against lefties because of his power. In 2019, he hit 33 home runs for San Diego, despite battling a knee injury during the second half of the season. Now, with the Rays moving on to the AL Division Series, Renfroe will return to Petco Park, his home ballpark during his first four big league seasons with the Padres.
“It’s a great place to hit in,” Renfroe said. “Beautiful city, great fans that will support us 100 percent, and it’ll just be a fun series.”
Renfroe’s grand slam capped off the six-run second inning, as it was Mike Zunino who got the rally started. Zunino, who has struggled offensively in his first two seasons with the Rays, hit an 88 mph fastball into the left-field bleachers to give Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead. It was the first postseason homer of Zunino’s career.
The early offensive outburst is exactly what the Rays were hoping for in Game 2 as they looked to sweep the best-of-three series. In two games against Ryu this season, Tampa Bay had only seven hits against the left-hander. On Wednesday, the Rays had eight hits in 1 2/3 innings against Ryu.
“I think we just had quality at-bats,” Zunino said. “He doesn’t make many mistakes, but guys were able to piece together some at-bats. There was potentially some pressure off after winning Game 1, so it let us play a little bit free and easy like we usually play, and we settled in and the guys got the bats going really quick. Hitting is contagious, and once you’re able to do that, everybody is feeling pretty good.”