Arozarena again! HR extends historic tear

Rookie swats 5th of postseason; frustrated by strike-3 call

October 15th, 2020

The legend of is showing no signs of slowing.

The breakout star of the postseason, Arozarena continued his torrid offensive display on Wednesday night, launching a game-tying two-run homer to the lowest level of the Western Metal Supply Co. building at Petco Park.

Arozarena’s fifth home run of the postseason wasn’t enough in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, and he also missed an opportunity to break the game open on a controversial strike-three call, but with the hottest hitter in baseball in their lineup, the Rays like their chances going into Game 5. There’s also reason to believe that Arozarena can keep this train rolling, as he peeled back yet another layer to his incredible offensive talents when Astros starter Zack Greinke threw him a 3-1 curveball in the fourth inning.

Pitchers have struggled to get a fastball by Arozarena’s aggressive swing, but Greinke’s 73-mph curve was the softest pitch he’s hit out in 2020. Other than a mid-80s slider Arozarena launched off the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka in Game 3 of the AL Division Series, the other 10 home runs he’s hit between the regular season and postseason this year have come off pitches 91 mph or harder.

Arozarena’s 2020 highlight reel is an ode to brute force and big swings against heaters, but this was an opportunity to put his plate approach on display, and his hunch proved right against the veteran Greinke.

“He’s a really good pitcher,” Arozarena said after the 4-3 loss. “Throughout the series, they’ve been starting to throw me a lot more off-speed pitches. On that 3-1 pitch, I’d already seen a couple of off-speed pitches, so I was able to make an adjustment.”

It was a close strike-three call, though, not the home run, that will have some Rays fans talking on Thursday morning. With two runners on and one out in the sixth as the Rays pressured Greinke, Arozarena appeared to check his swing on a 1-2 changeup, but it was called strike three by first base umpire Tim Timmons. Greinke then struck out Mike Brosseau to escape the inning unscathed.

“I personally don’t think I went on that swing,” Arozarena said. “We’re all human beings, and I think the umpire made a mistake on that call.”

Arozarena’s five homers are one behind Evan Longoria (2008) for the most by any rookie in a single postseason. His 19 hits are fourth among rookies, and he’s only three shy of tying Derek Jeter’s all-time record set in 1996.

Teammate and his white board were ready for the occasion. Upon Arozarena’s return to the dugout, Phillips had an acrostic poem ready, reading: “Rakes All Night Day Year.”

He’s not wrong. Arozarena’s ascension this season has been nothing short of remarkable. Acquired from St. Louis in the trade that also landed José Martínez, Arozarena posted a .281/.382/.641 slash line in 23 games down the stretch after missing the first month while on the COVID IL.

After an impressive debut, Arozarena has elevated his game this postseason, hitting .442. His nine extra-base hits are tied with Longoria and B.J. Upton from 2008 as the most by a Ray in a single postseason. Arozarena, 25, also became the Cuban-born leader for homers in a single postseason, breaking a tie with Kendrys Morales (2015), Jose Canseco (1988) and Tony Perez (1975).

Not that he’s counting.

“I try not to pay attention to the statistics, but with the internet and everyone bringing it up, you’re kind of aware of it,” Arozarena said prior to the game. “Honestly, I don’t pay attention to the statistics outside of me and what I can control.”

At this rate, it would be difficult for Arozarena to keep track of the accolades even if he tried. He’s been a one-man show for the Rays at times, which is great when he’s the engine powering a win. When he’s one of the lone jolts of offense like in Game 4, though, it highlights how top-heavy the Rays’ lineup has been in the ALCS.

The Rays aren’t up 3-1 because they’ve slugged their way past the Astros; series numbers paint a picture that’s quite the opposite. Houston has outhit Tampa Bay 35-22, while the Rays have struck out 17 more times than the Astros (47-29).

Arozarena needs some help, and manager Kevin Cash knows it.

“We've got to get the bats going. No doubt about it,” Cash said. “We've been carried here by our pitching and defense, which that's how we're built, but it sure would be nice to find a way to get the bats going and keep the line moving a little bit. Right now it's not coming easy for really anybody, with the exception of a couple guys.”

Winning with pitching, defense and some timely hitting is the Rays’ way, but even that has its limits. In this series, the Rays’ defense has been nearly perfect while their pitching has been solid, which has been enough to drag the bats along.

Cash expects some of his scuffling hitters to turn the corner after some encouraging at-bats in Game 4, and if they’re able to provide a steadier offensive effort in Game 5, then a big blow like Arozarena’s home run on Wednesday should be enough to propel the Rays to their second World Series appearance in club history.

With the story that Arozarena has been penning this October, it’s only fitting that he has an opportunity to add a few more chapters to the legend.