ST. PETERSBURG -- In a season that has mentally tested every player and staff member around the league, perhaps no Rays player has been through more adversity than Manuel Margot.
Margot struggled at the plate during the first couple weeks of the season, but he was fighting a much bigger battle off the field. He lost his father, Enmanuel, after a lengthy battle with COVID-19 that included 19 days in a coma. It has been a difficult year for Margot, but in the Rays’ 3-1 Game 1 win over the Blue Jays on Tuesday at Tropicana Field, Margot was able to connect on a swing that he’ll never forget.
“A lot of people have had trying years,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “With what he’s gone through, that’s gotta be pretty special for him. I’m guessing that it’ll be a hit that he’ll remember for the rest of his life.”
With the Rays up 1-0 in the seventh, Margot gave the team the separation they were looking for. The outfielder sent a 1-1 cutter from Blue Jays reliever A.J. Cole into the left-field bleachers for a two-run homer. That homer proved to be the difference in the Game 1 win.
As he rounded the bases, Margot was just thinking about what he had done for his team. But afterwards, he couldn’t help but think about how proud his father -- who is the reason he started playing baseball -- would be.
“He would be really proud,” Margot said. “I used to talk to him every night after the game, even when I played in San Diego. He would just stay up super late just to talk to me and he would tell me what I was doing wrong, and I imagine that he would be really proud right now.”
Once Margot crossed the plate, his teammates welcomed him with pure joy. After all, his teammates, especially shortstop Willy Adames, are the people he has leaned on during the hardships. Adames, who let Margot crash at his St. Petersburg home over the summer, couldn’t contain his excitement.
“I know that was special for him and obviously, we are really happy for him,” Adames said. “Everything that he went through recently and what he’s gone through off the field, and for him to show up this year in his first postseason like that, that’s impressive. I was happy for him and hopefully, he can continue to do that to help us.”
Margot will continue to be an integral part of the Rays’ roster moving forward. He's been one of the club's best outfielders and has started to find more success at the plate. As a team, Tampa Bay has a chance to accomplish a lot over the next month. But for Margot, it’ll be tough to top his first postseason home run and the meaning behind it.
“That was one of the most important home runs in my career,” Margot said. “I honestly felt really proud of myself and it just validates everything we’ve gone through.”