Tampa Bay Rays: Ranking the 10 Biggest Home Runs in Franchise History
For a team that has existed for less than fifteen years, the Tampa Bay Rays have hit a lot of memorable home runs.
Of course, some of these home runs—generally ones that were hit since 2008, the year the Rays turned from consistently awful to perennial contenders—are more memorable than others. For example, here aren't many baseball fans who are unfamiliar with Evan Longoria's walk-off shot in the 12th inning of Game 162 to give the Rays the 2011 Wild Card.
Spoiler: That home run is on this list.
But even before 2008, the Rays hit plenty of important home runs that will be forever remembered by everyone...or at least Rays fans.
So with that in mind, let's take a look at the 10 Biggest Home Runs in Tampa Bay Rays history.
So What Does "Biggest" Mean Anyway?
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
To put it simply, by looking at the "biggest" home runs in Rays history, I'm looking at home runs that were a) important and b) memorable.
I gave more weight to importance than to memorability, because some of the more memorable home runs hit by the Rays just aren't very important in hindsight.
I still have very vivid memories of Delmon Young's first-career dinger in 2006, because at that point, I thought Young was going to be one of the greatest Rays of all time. It didn't quite work out that way, or even close to that way; he was traded to Minnesota after the 2007 season.
Still, if I was just looking at important home runs, then there likely wouldn't be any homers on this list from before 2008, because let's be honest, the results of individual Rays games weren't really that important from 1998-2007.
Example: Rey Sanchez hit a walk-off, inside-the-park homer to beat the Rockies in 10 innings in 2004. It was the difference between the Rays winning 70 games and 69 games.
So overall, the "biggest" home runs are a combination of the most important and memorable home runs in Rays history. Now that the criteria has been established, let's start counting them down!
Reid Brignac celebrates after his walk-off home run gives the Rays a 1-0 win in a crucial game against the Yankees
J. Meric/Getty Images
Dan Johnson, Red Sox Killer, Part 1 (August 28, 2010)
With Boston still within striking distance of the Rays (4.5 games behind, going into August 28th), Johnson led off the bottom of the 10th inning with a homer off of Scott Atchison, giving the Rays a 3-2 victory.
Reid Brignac Hits Walk-Off to Put Rays In First Place (September 13th, 2010)
With the Rays a half-game behind the Yankees for first place in the AL East, Brignac hit a solo shot off Sergio Mitre in the bottom of the 11th inning to give the Rays a 1-0 win.
Dan Johnson, Yankee Killer, Part 1 (September 15th, 2010)
Just two days after Brignac's heroics (and with the Rays again a half-game behind the Yankees in the standings), Johnson hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning to give the Rays a 4-3 lead; this score would hold up as the final.
Two additional notes on this game: First, Johnson drove in every run the Rays scored; he hit another two-run bomb in the fifth inning. Second, you might better remember this game as the "Derek Jeter Cheating to Get on Base By Pretending He Got Hit With a Pitch" game.
10. Carlos Pena's 46th Home Run (September 30th, 2007)
Carlos Pena made a LOT of these trips around the bases in 2007
Greg Fiume/Getty Images
The 2007 Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays were not a particularly fun team to watch.
They lost 96 games, and were especially poor at run prevention; the pitching staff posted a 4.70 FIP for the year, and due in part to a very poor defense, the team ERA was even higher at 5.53.
There were a few bright spots, of course.
Most notably, B.J. Upton had an excellent year offensively, Scott Kazmir led the American League in strikeouts, and Carlos Pena spent the entire year hitting the crap out of baseballs.
Pena hit his 46th and final home run of the year (which was good for second in the AL) off of A.J. Burnett on September 30th in an 8-5 win against the Blue Jays.
Granted, a solo home run on the last day of a season in which the D-Rays finished last in the AL East may not sound too important. But Pena's 46 homers still stands as the Rays single-season record, and more importantly, he was able to cap off one of the best offensive seasons in (Devil) Rays history in resounding fashion.
If nothing else, this home run deserves to make the list for two reasons: as a larger recognition of Pena's fantastic 2007, and because watching Carlos Pena hit was maybe the most exciting part about (Devil) Rays games that year.
It was certainly way better than watching Shawn Camp pitch.
9. Randy Winn Goes Deep to Stop 15-Game Losing Streak (May 11, 2002)
Randy Winn, who looks very excited about being a D-Ray in this picture
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Wow, that's kind of a depressing header, isn't it?
You kind of had to take your victories wherever you could get them as a Devil Rays fan, and in this case, the D-Rays finally got a victory after losing fifteen games in a row.
Randy Winn was the hero on this night, hitting a, two-out, three-run walk-off shot off of Jorge Julio that gave Tampa Bay a 6-4 win over the Orioles.
The 2002 Devil Rays finished 55-106. I could list a number of other stats and numbers that prove that this was not a very good team, but I think the record suffices here. No matter how much bad luck a team may encounter over the course of a season, it takes a certain level of ineptitude to lose 106 games in a year.
Now, I'm not saying that the D-Rays would have gone on to break the record for the longest losing streak since 1900 (23, by the 1961 Phillies) if they didn't Winn (Get it? Hilarious, right?) this game. After all, they beat the O's again the very next day.
Still, this is a team that lost 106 games, and if Winn makes an out instead of hitting a homer, then they would have been at 16 losses in a row, within striking distance of the Phillies' record streak. The D-Rays probably wouldn't have gone on to break the record for longest losing streak, but they might have.
Thanks to Randy Winn, we never had to find out.
By the way, Winn was the player the D-Rays traded for Lou Piniella after the 2002 season. This was a bad idea because Randy Winn was a pretty good player at the time, and Lou Piniella sat in the dugout during games. Still, based on the next entry on this list, one might have been fooled into thinking that the trade would be a coup for Tampa Bay.
8. Carl Crawford Sends Fans Home Happy in Piniella's Debut (March 31st, 2003)
The Devil Rays celebrate after Crawford's homer gives them a 6-4 win over the Red Sox
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
This game marked Lou Piniella's managerial debut with Tampa Bay, and if you're the type of person who thinks a manager can have a significant effect on a team's performance, then this game might have swayed you into believing that Piniella could turn the D-Rays into contenders.
Alas, he couldn't; the 2003 Devil Rays would finish last in the AL East. Still, this game was a great start to the season and to the Lou Piniella era in Tampa.
This game unfolded in a very similar way to the previously discussed "Randy Winn Game." The D-Rays entered the bottom of the ninth trailing the Red Sox 4-1, but scored five in the ninth to win 6-4. Carl Crawford delivered the big blow, hitting a two-out, three-run walk-off homer to win it for Tampa Bay.
Ultimately, the outcome of this game wasn't very important; again, the D-Rays would finish the season in last place.
Still, Crawford's homer gave the D-Rays a dramatic Opening Day victory over a division rival and got Piniella's tenure in Tampa off to a great start. It was arguably the best pre-2008 moment in the history of the franchise, and that warrants its inclusion on a list of the biggest home runs in Rays history.
7. Fred McGriff's 400th Home Run (June 2, 2000)
The vast majority of Fred McGriff's home runs did not come while he was hearing a Rays uniform, but his 400th did
Chris Covatta/Getty Images
The Rays franchise has only been in existence since 1998, and one product of this is that very few players have achieved significant career milestones in a Rays uniform.
It makes sense why this would be the case. The Rays haven't yet developed any "legendary" players yet, guys who are close to 3,000 hits or 500 home runs.
And with the exception of their earliest years, the Rays haven't been too keen on signing the type of player close to a career milestone; veterans with name-value who don't produce enough to justify their price.
But to every rule there are exceptions, and here we see an example of an exception coming in the form of Fred McGriff, who hit his 400th home run while playing for the Devil Rays. The Crime Dog hit it against the Mets at Shea Stadium; the pitcher was Glendon Rusch.
Hitting 400 home runs is an incredible accomplishment, and it shouldn't be taken for granted. Combined with the fact that the Rays don't have a lot of cases of guys getting milestone hits, and the case for McGriff's 400th homer as one of the biggest home runs in Rays history should be clear.
6. Ben Zobrist Saves the Rays' Dream Season (July 18, 2008)
Zobrist's two-run home run provided the winning runs in the Rays' 2-1 victory over the Blue Jays
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Okay, that title is admittedly over-dramatic. Still, in July of 2008, Zobrist hit a home run that led the Rays to a very important victory, even if this particular win doesn't seem as important in hindsight.
So the Rays' surprising run to the 2008 AL Pennant has been well documented, but not everyone remembers that right before the All-Star break, they hit a bit of a rough patch. A major rough patch, actually—the Rays lost seven games in a row heading into the break, dropping behind the Red Sox in the AL East standings.
One easy way to lose baseball games is to not score enough runs, and the Rays were certainly not scoring many runs during their losing streak (just 13 over the course of the seven games).
This offensive slump continued into the first game after the break against the Blue Jays, when Ben Zobrist came to bat with a runner on first and two out in the bottom of the seventh inning, with the Rays trailing 1-0.
Zobrist has turned into a very good player (and that may be understating it), but at this point, he had yet to become an everyday player and he hadn't yet shown the hitting prowess he would display in coming seasons.
But in this at-bat, he would give a sign of things to come, hitting a two-run homer off of A.J. Burnett to give the Rays a 2-1 lead that would hold up to be the final score. The Rays would go on to win the following night, their unlikely run to the World Series back on track.
Would the Rays still have made the World Series if Ben Zobrist didn't power them to victory?
Very possibly: They ended up winning the AL East by two games over the Red Sox, so theoretically, removing one win from their record wouldn't have had much of an impact on how things played out over the course of the year.
Still, it's worth noting that this seven-game losing streak marked the first time the Rays had encountered serious adversity in 2008. If Zobrist doesn't homer and the Rays lose this game, do the Rays continue to struggle? Does the losing streak take a mental toll on a young team not used to encountering adversity in the midst of a playoff chase?
The Rays may have been fine and still gone on to win the AL East and make the World Series even if they didn't beat the Blue Jays in this game.
But they may not have been.
Thanks to Ben Zobrist, the Rays got their season back on track and didn't have to deal with any of the questions that stem from losing eight games in a row.
5. Wade Boggs Gets His 3000th Hit (August 7th, 1999)
Boggs acknowledges the crowd after getting his 3000th hit
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
So remember all that stuff I wrote earlier about how not many players have achieved major milestones while playing for the Rays, and how that justified including Fred McGriff's 400th home run as among the biggest in franchise history?
I might as well just copy and paste that here, because it all applies to Wade Boggs getting his 3000th hit, a home run off of Chris Haney in a game the D-Rays would end up losing 15-10 to the Indians.
Overall, Boggs' homer is probably a little bigger than McGriff's because getting 3,000 hits is a rarer feat than hitting 400 home runs.
But the importance of both homers ultimately stems from the fact that they marked historical milestones, and the Rays haven't had many players achieve those kinds of milestones while playing in St. Petersburg.
4. Matt Joyce's Game 161 Heroics (September 27, 2011)
Joyce connects for a three-run homer that gave the Rays a 5-3 lead over the Yankees.
J. Meric/Getty Images
As I mentioned earlier, there aren't many baseball fans who are unfamiliar with the Rays' comeback victory to clinch the Wild Card on the final day of the season in 2011. But I'd wager that far fewer fans remember the Rays' comeback victory on the second-to-last day of the season that put them in position to win the Wild Card in Game 162.
The Rays came into this game tied with the Red Sox for both the second place in the AL East and for the Wild Card.
Down 3-2 to the Yankees in the bottom of the seventh, Matt Joyce hit a three-run shot off of Rafael Soriano to give the Rays a 5-3 lead that would stand up for the rest of the game.
The Red Sox would go on to win their game this same night, leaving them with the same record as the Rays going into the final game of the year.
If Joyce doesn't come through, the Rays may very well have been a game behind Boston heading into the last day of the season, which means that their best-case scenario was forcing a one-game playoff with Boston for the Wild Card spot.
The clutch home runs hit by Dan Johnson and Evan Longoria during Game 162 (which, if you haven't figured it out by now, will be discussed later) don't take on the same significance if the Rays don't win the night before, and the Rays very well may not have won the night before without Matt Joyce's big hit.
3. Dan Johnson, Red Sox Killer, Part 2 (September 9, 2008)
For these last three home runs, there really isn't much of a need to explain their significance. It's pretty self-evident. So with that in mind, let me go ahead and just list some facts about this game. Trust me, they speak for themselves.
- The Rays had lost six-of-seven coming into this game.
- If the Rays lost this game, they would've dropped to second place in the AL East, a half-game behind the Red Sox.
-Dan Johnson was called up from Triple-A Durham the same morning this game was played. He didn't even fly into Boston (where the game was being played) until about half an hour before it started.
-Jonathan Papelbon was well into his run as one of the most dominant closers in all of baseball,
-The Rays were trailing the Red Sox 4-3 heading into the top of the ninth.
- Naturally, Johnson took Papelbon deep to lead off the ninth to tie the game. The Rays would pick up another run in the inning and go on to win 5-4.
Okay, so maybe a little explanation of the significance of Johnson's homer is warranted. Like Zobrist's homer against Toronto, it helped get the Rays out of a slump and get back on the right track.
Unlike Zobrist's homer, it came on the road, in September, against one of the best closers in the game, against the team competing with the Rays for the division title. And if that doesn't explain why it's one of the biggest homers in Rays' history, I'm not sure anything will.
2. Dan Johnson, Yankee Killer, Part 2 (September 28, 2011)
He's even more menacing in color, isn't he?
I feel stupid writing about this. If you're reading this, I'm almost positive you already know the following information just based on the title:
-The home run I'm referring to. But in case you didn't know, I'm talking about Dan Johnson's homer in the bottom of the ninth in Game 162—the final game of the 2011 season.
- The exact situation behind the home run.
If you somehow didn't already know this, it came with the Rays trailing the Yankees 7-6 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, nobody on base and two strikes on Johnson.
Naturally, Johnson—who had spent most of the year in the minors after hitting really poorly in the majors to start the season—took Cory Wade deep to tie the game, capping off a seven-run comeback for the Rays. We can discuss how the game ended in detail on the next slide.
- The importance of the home run.
Well, actually, it wasn't very important, besides the part where it allowed the Rays to come back and win the game and clinch the Wild Card, capping off one of the most improbable runs to the playoffs ever and also completing Boston's total collapse over the month of September, a collapse that ended with them missing the playoffs.
But again, I feel really dumb writing about this. There's not much more I can add to one of the most unlikely, clutch, and memorable home runs in not only Rays history, but in MLB history.
So let's just move on to No. 1, shall we?
1. Evan Longoria Wins Game 162, Sends Rays to Playoffs (September 28, 2011)
Evan Longoria celebrates after hitting one of the most memorable home runs in MLB history.
J. Meric/Getty Images
I mean, duh.
Believe me, I don't relish making the obvious choice. I wish I could've found a way to justify picking some other homer here, like Pat Burrell's walk-off shot to beat the Blue Jays in 2009.
But seriously, what else could you put here? I honestly can't think of anything.
Once again, I feel stupid even discussing the background, but here it is anyway: bottom of the 12th, Rays tied with the Yankees at 7, one out, nobody on. Evan Longoria takes Scott Proctor deep to win the game and get the Rays into the playoffs.
I kind of already discussed the significance of this homer in the last slide—it capped off the Rays' unlikely (and that's an understatement) run to the playoffs and completed the Red Sox' epic collapse—but it doesn't really matter, because if you have any interest in baseball you probably already knew the story behind this home run.
There's not much else to say behind the obvious.
Longoria's homer ended one of the most exciting nights in the history of baseball, and was one of the most exciting moments in the history of baseball. It was one of the most memorable home runs in MLB history, so it makes sense that it would be the biggest home run in Rays history.