Tampa Bay Rays: The Mike Zunino redemption arc
Mike Zunino was a much maligned figure for the Tampa Bay Rays this season. But he came through when it mattered most.
The Tampa Bay Rays had a decision to make at catcher this offseason. They had plucked Travis d’Arnaud from the scrap heap, and while he had blossomed in Tampa Bay, he was set to be a free agent. The Rays also had Mike Zunino, who was still under team control via arbitration, and due to his struggles offensively, was likely to be much cheaper.
Given the price point, and the uncertainty of whether they had simply caught lightning in a bottle with d’Arnaud, the Rays opted to keep Zunino. That move seemingly backfired, as d’Arnaud built off of his incredible showing with the Rays and Zunino tanked.
The 2020 season was an abject nightmare. Zunino produced a horrendous .147/.238/.360 batting line in his 84 plate appearances. While he had some pop, with four doubles and four homers, he also struck out 37 times. Zunino became the focal point for the ire of Rays fans this season, especially in light of the decision to let d’Arnaud walk away.
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But Zunino has found redemption in the postseason, particularly in the American League Championship Series. In that seven game set, he had five hits in 20 plate appearances, with two homers and four RBI. None of those home runs were bigger than his solo blast in Game Seven, as it proved to be the game winner in their 4-2 triumph.
Heros are made in the postseason. Sometimes, it is the unlikeliest of players who rises to the occasion, getting that clutch hit or recording that desperately needed out to escape a jam. And sometimes, that player is someone whose season, to that point, had been a disaster.
That was the case with Zunino. He had gone from vilified to, if not beloved, a cult figure in Rays’ playoff history. He may not have many hits in the postseason, but seemingly every one has mattered. Zunino has turned around his season, coming through when the Rays needed him most.
Mike Zunino has found redemption for the Tampa Bay Rays. It could not have come at a better time.