Steven Souza Jr. Ends Rays Walk-Off Homer Drought

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - AUGUST 6: Steven Souza Jr. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - AUGUST 6: Steven Souza Jr. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images) /

After three years, the Tampa Bay Rays earned a walk-off win via the home run ending the second longest drought in baseball thanks to Steven Souza Jr.

Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Steven Souza Jr. is slowly working his way into the record books not only for the Rays, but for major league baseball as well. Souza Jr. connected on a 1-0 pitch from Brewers reliever Jacob Barnes in the bottom of the ninth inning on Sunday to give the Rays their first walk-off win via the home run since May 22, 2014.

As well, it was the first walk-off home run and hit of his career, extending career highs with 24 home runs and a team-leading 69th RBI. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, all 24 of Souza’s home runs hit have come against right-handed pitchers. He joins Lee May who also belted his first 24 home runs of a season back in 1972 with Houston.

The Souza Jr. that the Rays envisioned they were getting in the blockbuster trade that sent Wil Myers to San Diego via Washington trade back in December 2014 has finally arrived. He has been one of the most consistent hitters in the lineup day in and out, regardless where he hits in the batting order.

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Thus far, on the season, Souza Jr. line .269/.371/.517 with 24 home runs, 69 RBI, 18 doubles, two triples, 62 runs scored and 57 walks are all career highs. With 102 hits in 105 games played, he is four hits away from tying his career high set in 2016 and four stolen bases away from tying his career high set in 2015.

His longest dry spell without a hit is three games, which he has done only twice all season and in prior years his biggest nemesis’ has been the strikeout, which he has cut down big time doing so at a 28.4% rate, compared to 34% in 2016. He is drawing base-on-balls in 12.9% of his plate appearances compared to 6.6% in all of last season.

Additionally, his longest hitting streak has been seven games, from Apr. 17-23 hitting .414 with two home runs, and nine RBIs. His longest streak without hitting a home run has been 13 games from Apr. 24 to May 13, which is also the worst stretch in which he has hit all season with a line of .146/.281/.146 (7-for-48, 19 strikeouts).

Sticking with some numbers, according to Statcast Souza’s walk off home run left the bat at 113.9 mph, which is a new record for a Ray’s batter. It is the hardest-hit homer since Statcast was put into action in 2015. Statcast also noted that the pitch from Brewers reliever Jacob Barnes came in a 97.9 mph making it the fourth hardest pitch converted for a homer by the Rays this season and a new personal best for Souza.

How ironic that the last time the Rays had walk-off win via the home run was hit by Sean Rodriguez against the Oakland in 2014 and on this same day, Rodriguez would hit a walk off as well. Traded by the Braves on Saturday to the Pirates, Rodriguez lifted the Pirates to victory with a 12th inning walk-off home run in his first game back in a Pirates uni.

“I knew the stat coming in, or I’ve known it for a while now,” Kevin Cash said of the drought, which started before he was the club’s manager. “Check that one off my bucket list.”

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In as much significance as Souza’s walk-off home run was, it was however, the Rays taking the final game of their three-game series against the Brewers, to recoup what had been disheartening losses in the first games.

Shutout in the first two games of the series, the Rays finally snapped their 21-innings of scoreless baseball in the second inning of Sunday’s contest. During this span, the Brewers starters held the Rays at bay allowing only 14 hits and just the one run. In the three-game set, the Rays only scored two runs and they did not record a hit with runners in scoring position, going 0-for-18.

The win also prevented the Rays from being swept for the fourth time this season and as well kept them from losing ground to the Red Sox and Yankees as they both won. When they Rays return to action on Tuesday against Boston, they will be sitting 5.5 GB of Boston, 2.5 GB of the Yankees and a half game back of the Royals for the second AL Wild Card.

Speaking of Boston, they will be making their second trip into Tropicana Field on a six-game winning streak. When the two clubs met the last time, the Rays were winners taking the series heading into the All-Star break.

Austin Pruitt will open the series against Boston, making his first start against them. Pruitt has faced the Sox twice this season, however they were in relief and in one of his appearances he was pounded for four runs on eight hits in just 2.1 innings. Pruitt is also coming in off a great pitching performance in which he shut down the Astros in 6.1 innings.

As for Sale, he has been a strikeout machine when facing the Rays – then again he has done it against just about every team he faces. In his last start against the Rays on July 6, he struck out 12 but the Rays tagged him for two home runs with four runs crossing the plate for a 4-1 win. On a side note, in his three starts against the Rays this season he has struck out 12 in each game.

Next: Rays to get Jake Odorizzi back on Wednesday

Sale has struck out 13.4 Rays per nine innings, which is the highest rate he has against any AL opponent. And his ERA of 3.67 against the Rays is his third highest against AL teams.