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Zunino channels new 'dad strength' for 1st HR

@juanctoribio
April 22, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG -- After welcoming the birth of his first child, Rhett Michael Zunino, on Friday night, Mike Zunino returned to the Rays lineup Monday and was interested to see if he would benefit from the "dad strength" that some of his teammates have raved about. “It’ll be nice to

ST. PETERSBURG -- After welcoming the birth of his first child, Rhett Michael Zunino, on Friday night, Mike Zunino returned to the Rays lineup Monday and was interested to see if he would benefit from the "dad strength" that some of his teammates have raved about.

“It’ll be nice to hit my first homer today, huh?” Zunino said before Monday’s game. “Everybody talks about [dad strength], so it’ll be nice to see if that works into effect sooner rather than later."

That dad strength surely came sooner rather than later, as Zunino blasted a go-ahead, two-run home run off Royals starter Brad Keller in the seventh inning to break a 3-3 tie. It helped the Rays snap a four-game losing streak with a 6-3 win against Kansas City.

It was Zunino’s first home run of the season, and it traveled 425 feet and had an exit velocity of 106.6 mph.

“It took long enough, but it’s one of those things that if it had to come at a time, that was a pretty good one,” Zunino said after the game. “It was a special moment, feeling good at the plate with obviously having three games off, but I felt pretty good the first couple at-bats and got a good pitch to hit.”

Zunino and his wife, Alyssa, drove down to St. Petersburg Monday morning from their Gainesville, Fla., home. The family spent Saturday night at the hospital before spending Sunday at home in Gainesville, enjoying an Easter dinner. When Zunino returned to the clubhouse after Monday’s game, he came back to a couple of photos his wife had texted to him of Rhett.

“They were all watching. I have a bunch of pictures of him, so it was cool,” Zunino said. “It was the first time talking to her knowing they were going to watch the game together. It’s something special. It was cool, and then to get the text of him and everything afterwards was the icing on the cake.”

Not only was the home run a special moment for Zunino, it was a key moment in Monday’s win. After falling behind 3-1 in the fifth inning, the Rays had to rally back from a deficit for the fifth consecutive game. Fortunately for the Rays, this time they were able to finish the comeback thanks to Zunino’s two-run shot.

“That’s something that he’ll be able to talk about for a long time,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “The way it came and how big of a hit it was at the time is even more impactful. It was good to have him back.”

Zunino has now hit 96 home runs over his seven-year big league career. But Monday’s home run ranks above the rest.

“That has to be number one,” Zunino said. “Just for the timing of it. It’s one of those things where you do that and you remember certain ones. That’s definitely the top one.”

Diaz goes deep again

Yandy Díaz connected for just one home run in 265 at-bats as a member of the Indians during the 2017 and ‘18 seasons. After his home run in the eighth inning off Royals reliever Scott Barlow in Monday’s win, Diaz has now hit six home runs this season in just 79 at-bats.

Diaz's homer hugged the foul pole as it cleared the right-field fence on Monday, a similar location to his home run on Saturday against the Red Sox.

“That’s two there and one foul,” Cash said. “Just keep them fair.”

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.