Playing with heavy heart, Margot breaks out

Rays' outfielder recently lost father to COVID-19

August 11th, 2020

It hasn’t been the start that envisioned to his season.

Margot, who was acquired from the Padres just days before the start of Spring Training, got off to a 3-for-30 start at the plate with his new team. His defense, which has been his calling card during his five-year Major League career, was also off to a slow start, highlighted by an error on Sunday that allowed the Yankees to score two runs.

But on Monday night at Fenway Park, Margot displayed some of the tools that had the Rays front office excited when they acquired him. Margot went 4-for-4 with two doubles, reached base five times, drove in a run and scored twice in the Rays’ 8-7 win over the Red Sox.

“We all wanted him to have a big day,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “Good for him. He’s been through a lot and it’s nice to see a smile on his face. That was the highlight of the day, along with us winning.”

Off the field, the struggles for Margot have been a lot more difficult. Margot’s father, Enmanuel, contracted COVID-19 a few weeks ago. The outfielder said his father meant everything to him and was the person who helped him get signed by the Red Sox in 2011 out of his small Dominican Republic town, Villa Altagracia.

“They would never give us good news,” Margot said of his father’s time fighting the virus. “I was worried the whole time because I was always hoping to hear good news, but they never gave me anything positive or that he was showing signs of getting better.”

Margot’s father spent 19 days in the hospital, but he passed away last week after a lengthy battle with the virus. Margot flew back to the Dominican Republic in the wake of his father’s passing and returned to the team on Sunday after undergoing intake testing, and says he hasn’t stopped thinking about his father.

“My dad was my mentor,” Margot said in Spanish. “Every time I was doing bad, he was the person that I would call and he would always have a positive message to keep me going. While he was sick, I really wanted to talk to him, but he just couldn’t talk. I felt like he was with me today.”

Through the struggles, Margot and the Rays hope that Monday’s performance makes the outfielder feel more comfortable. Margot mentioned that he was pressing a bit, as he was trying to impress his new team. Monday’s performance, at least for a night, accomplished that.

“We’ll do anything for him,” Rays center fielder said. “I promise you, looking back at this game tonight, it’s going to be the start of him going off here shortly.”

With Margot leading the way, the bottom of the Tampa Bay order played a crucial role in Monday’s win. Kiermaier, who was out of the lineup on Sunday, delivered the big hit: a two-run double in the seventh inning off Boston left-hander Jeffrey Springs. Kiermaier went 2-for-4 with three RBIs in the win and is now 7-for-19 with runners in scoring position this season.

The seven through nine hitters in the order came into Monday’s game hitting .166 (24-for-145) with 14 RBIs. Monday's game saw Margot, Kiermaier and combine to go 8-for-13 with six RBIs.

“For me personally, to square up a ball off the lefty and hit it the other way, that’s when I know I’m getting locked in,” Kiermaier said. “Very happy to see that and I’ll take as many of those as I can.”

As a team, starting off a three-city, 10-game trip with a win was huge for a team that went 0-5 in its first road trip this year. The Rays mentioned that they now feel more used to some of the unique protocols that are being placed on road trips in 2020. In a normal season, a three-city trip can swing a season in different ways and that especially holds true during the condensed 60-game season in ‘20.

“I still don’t think we’re playing our best baseball, but we’re headed in the right direction.” Kiermaier said. “Our pitchers keep doing what they’re doing and if our guys get more locked in as time goes on, we’re going to be just more dangerous as the season progresses and that’s what it’s all about.”