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Tampa Bay Rays: Travis d’Arnaud is the unlikeliest of heroes

By Austin Reimann
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 15: Travis d'Arnaud #37 of the Tampa Bay Rays connects for his second solo home run of the game in the third inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on July 15, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 15: Travis d'Arnaud #37 of the Tampa Bay Rays connects for his second solo home run of the game in the third inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on July 15, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /
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In the most important series the Tampa Bay Rays have played in nearly five years, the unlikeliest of heroes emerged to lead them to a shocking and tone setting victory.

He was labeled a castoff.

A 30 year old catcher playing for his third team in as many months struggling to find any sort of footing at the plate, Travis d’Arnaud found his footing last night. Maybe he found it ten days ago when he walked the Tampa Bay Rays off into the second half with a momentous blast. Either way, the castoff is no longer such. Instead, he has emerged as the unlikeliest of heroes in a season defining series.

How did he get here? How did Travis d’Arnaud become the unlikeliest of heroes in such a paramount series? How did a castoff catcher land on the Rays’ roster?

The series of events that landed d’Arnaud in Tampa Bay started last April when he underwent Tommy John surgery. After missing the remainder of the 2018 season and the beginning of the 2019 season recovering from the operation, d’Arnaud finally returned to Queens on April 7th.

He would appear in 10 games prior to being designated for assignment only three weeks after being activated. Across 23 at-bats, he collected only a pair of hits which was good for a .087 average. After going unclaimed, the Mets released d’Arnaud who would sign with the Dodgers two days later with whom he recorded only one official at-bat prior to being shipped off to Tampa Bay.

In Tampa Bay, d’Arnaud would return to form. The same form that landed him a 7th place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2014, a season in which he hit 13 bombs in 108 games. He would hit another 32 bombs across the 2015, 2016, and 2017 seasons in only 254 games (67 in 2015, 75 in 2016).

On June 10th the Rays opted to reward d’Arnaud for his production to that point by activating and subsequently optioning catcher Michael Perez to Triple-A Durham. In his 18 game audition, d’Arnaud slashed .259/.323/..481 with 3 bombs and 11 runs batted in. He, in turn, has rewared the Rays with much more than they could have asked for.

10 days ago, he sent the Rays into the break with a walk-off blast, capping off a series in which the Yankees and Rays traded blows for four games.

Last night, he picked up right where he left off against the Bronx Bombers. Prior to entering the 9th inning down by two with two on and two out facing one of the most electric relievers in the game, the Rays’ catcher was two for two with a pair of opposite field solo shots and walks.

Prior to entering the 9th inning representing the winning run, Travis d’Arnaud was a castoff playing for his third team in as many months. What followed was one of the more improbable things I have witnessed while watching baseball. The castoff became the unlikeliest of heroes in what may turn out to be one of the most important games of the season.

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Despite the long, dizzying journey back from Tommy John surgery during which he was designated for assignment, released, signed, and traded, Travis d’Arnaud rose to the occasion and overcame the odds.

It is hard to believe that just three months ago, he was labeled a castoff.

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