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d'Arnaud's 3rd homer beats Yankees in ninth

@juanctoribio
July 16, 2019

NEW YORK -- Travis d'Arnaud loves to hit against the Yankees. d’Arnaud hit a walk-off home run on July 6 against New York at Tropicana Field, and on Monday night, he came into the Bronx and put together one of the best individual performances in Rays franchise history. On a

NEW YORK -- Travis d'Arnaud loves to hit against the Yankees.

d’Arnaud hit a walk-off home run on July 6 against New York at Tropicana Field, and on Monday night, he came into the Bronx and put together one of the best individual performances in Rays franchise history.

On a day that began with d’Arnaud almost missing the team bus to Yankee Stadium, the 30-year-old catcher ended the night with a bang, connecting on three home runs, including a go-ahead three-run shot in the ninth inning off Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman to lead the Rays to a 5-4 win at Yankee Stadium.

Box score

“It was a big win. Huge win,” d’Arnaud said. “Not bad for a day that I almost missed the bus. To be up 1-0 in this series and to win three in a row against a great team in the Yankees is big for us.”

d’Arnaud, who is familiar with New York baseball fans having played parts of six seasons with the Mets, didn’t waste any time quieting the home crowd, sending a 386-foot home run to the right-center-field bleachers in the first inning for his first career leadoff home run. Two innings later, the catcher hit another solo shot to almost exactly the same spot, the second one traveling 379 feet.

“He was locked in,” said Rays starter Blake Snell, who allowed one run in five innings. “You can tell from the first at-bat, his second at-bat, he was feeling pretty good. To be able to watch that and be a part of that, it’s really cool to see.”

But no swing was more important than his last one. With Tampa Bay down to its last out, d’Arnaud stepped up to the plate representing the go-ahead run. Hitting coach Chad Mottola, who had a relationship with d’Arnaud when the catcher was rising through Toronto's organization, reminded him to stay short with his swing. d’Arnaud has credited Mottola for reviving his career, and his advice paid off again Monday night.

As he was down to his final strike against one of the best relievers in baseball, d’Arnaud laid off a couple of sliders in the dirt and spoiled a couple of 100 mph fastballs. Then, he got an 85 mph slider on the outside part of the plate and deposited it just over the right-field fence and over the outstretched arm of Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge.

“I figured I was out or it was a home run,” d’Arnaud said. “Judge was there, but it was far enough out of his reach.”

Chapman added, “All night, the slider had been working for me. I was trying to surprise him with the slider, down and away. That one was a little higher than I wanted, and he took advantage of it.”

It was just the fifth time in Rays franchise history that a player hit three home runs in a game, and the first since Evan Longoria did it on Oct. 3, 2012, against Baltimore. d’Arnaud also became the first catcher in MLB history to hit three home runs out of the leadoff spot and the first catcher to hit three home runs against the Yankees in a game.

“He’s played in this environment and there’s no denying that,” said Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash. “We have a lot of guys that haven’t. Travis has. He’s been fortunate to play over there with the Mets and a lot of fans, bright lights. That certainly has to play a factor and help him when he’s gotten some of these big opportunities and come through.”

After going 3-for-3 with two walks in the win, d’Arnaud is hitting .314 (11-for-35) with four home runs and nine RBIs in 11 games against the Yankees this season. Overall, d’Arnaud, who was acquired from the Dodgers in exchange for cash considerations on May 10, is hitting .282 with nine home runs and 26 RBIs as a member of the Rays.

The relationship with Mottola has played a key role for d’Arnaud, but so has a fresh start with Tampa Bay and the opportunity to play consistently, which he lacked in New York and Los Angeles.

“I know after 50 at-bats I started feeling more comfortable,” d’Arnaud said. “I don’t know why, but that was the number. I felt comfortable and we got a great pitching coach in [Kyle] Snyder. Cash has been great. [Paul] Hoover has been great, everyone has been great and helping me get back to the player that I know I can be.”

The heroics by d’Arnaud helped the Rays avoid another late-inning loss and gain a huge win in New York. The win snapped a streak of 14 consecutive series-opening losses at Yankee Stadium. It also helped Tampa Bay cut the division lead to five games, with five games remaining between the two teams.

“Especially being the first game, it’s huge,” Snell said. “We know how good [the Yankees] are. That team is really good. They have a great bullpen, great starters, they’re just great all-around. For us to be able to get this win and fight it out with one pitch left and Travis just put the team on his back, it’s amazing and it’s a great way to start [the series]. But we know we still have three tough games to go."

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