I think everyone agrees that 2020 eats, spews and regenerates nuclear waste in every way … well, almost every way. Because there is also Randy Arozarena.
The Tampa Bay Rays outfielder, who hit a two-run shot as his team won Game 7 Saturday night, is the indisputable hero of this baseball postseason, its 2015 Jorge Soler, its 2012 Pablo Sandoval, its 2011 David Freese, and on down the line of perfectly acceptable but unremarkable players who had a magic postseason. Yes, you will note that the other three players listed here do not exactly shoulder any Hall of Fame busts aside to make room for themselves. There are lots of others, some with even more glittery stories.
But 2020 has been sitting on America’s chest, and the Rays have been dancing between the hot carbon raindrops all year, in large part because Arozarena, who wasn’t going to make the team’s original roster for a series of perfectly good reasons, is now the face of the postseason’s most faceless team.
In fairness, the Rays are faceless in large part because we haven’t bothered to look at their faces until now. They had the second-best record in baseball. They brushed aside the Buffalo Blue Wings, or whatever they were. They out-homered and out-bullpenned the New York Yankees. Then they tackled, nearly lost, and finally finished the F.O. Astros, and now we’re interested.
If there is finally recognition for the team who righted the perceived wrong of the Astros, Arozarena has been the driver. His seven postseason homers are one short of the record set by the largely anonymous Barry Bonds (and ties the team record held by the slightly historically significant B.J. a.k.a. Melvin Upton), and six of his hits this postseason have either tied or put the Rays ahead. Arozarena’s entire season has been a combined triumph of small sample size, recency bias, and persistently good results on a nearly nightly basis. He was the no-brainer choice for the ALCS Most Valuable Player, and because he homers every seven at-bats or so and turns every home-run trot into a festival, he is surely the one Ray you think of when you contemplate this absurdist World Series.
His story is made more remarkable by the fact that it is all fresh and only beginning. Found on a Mexican League farm team by the St. Louis Cardinals, who found no way to use him, then traded to Tampa for top pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore, Arozarena didn’t get called up from the Rays’ phantom zone until the end of August and then became their most impactful player. And, to remind us all how quickly time passes even in the year in which time has barely crawled, his baseball idol is the fellow Cuban and venerable old-timer, Yasiel Puig.
Arozarena is also one of the few Rays who doesn’t offer a 40 percent strikeout rate. Tampa is a particularly doctrinaire devotee of the three true outcomes, and has led MLB in disgruntled trudges back to the dugout both in the regular and postseasons. His at-bats are the ones you delay a trip to the conservatory to watch because so many others are ring-ups.
Arozarena is the Ray you know, and the name that disrupts the narrative that Tampa is essentially the Island of Misfit Toys, just a bunch of guys from witness protection who swing from the arse and throw 97-mph changeups. Their player of the hour has 164 career plate appearances, and maybe just now has the leverage to ask the equipment guy if he can upgrade his uniform number to 66, so he can be that much more Puiggy. And Ray-like.