Randy Arozarena’s October magic is back – and more spectacular than ever.
Arozarena, the Tampa Bay Rays rookie outfielder, made history Thursday by hitting a home run and stealing home in Game 1 of their American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox, kick-starting the Rays’ defense of their American League pennant in historic fashion.
He’s the first player in playoff history to steal home and hit a home run in the same game. It was the first steal of home in a playoff game since the Chicago Cubs’ Javy Baez in Game 1 of the 2016 National League Championship Series.
And it was the first straight steal of home in a playoff game since Jackie Robinson ducked under the tag of Yogi Berra in Game 1 of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers-New York Yankees World Series.
It was one year ago when Arozarena slugged 10 home runs and banged out 29 hits in 20 games, both postseason records. He spurred the the Rays all the way to Game 6 of the World Series, where they lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
This year, they enter as favorites to defend their AL title and Game 1 of that quest, a 5-0 victory, showed why.
Arozarena drew a leadoff walk in the first inning and scored on an RBI double by Wander Franco, their 20-year-old rookie shortstop. Nelson Cruz, their 40-year-old DH, hit a home run off one of Tropicana Field’s infamous catwalks.
And then in the fifth, Arozarena ripped a pitch 106 mph and 397 feet out to left field to give the Rays a 4-0 lead. It was his 11th postseason home run, putting him just six homers away from cracking the all-time top 10 – a startling achievement given that Arozarena, technically, is still a 26-year-old rookie.
In Game 1, he saved the best for last.
Arozarena drew a walk in the seventh inning and motored to third on Franco’s RBI double. Red Sox lefty Josh Taylor was summoned, and Arozarena immediately began taking aggressive leads off third base as Taylor pitched to Brandon Lowe.
Taylor, it seems, went to great lengths to appear unbothered by Arozarena, and perhaps got too casual. As Taylor came set with the count 1-2 on Lowe, Taylor’s back turned away from Arozarena, the Cuban native dashed for home, getting several steps of a head start before Taylor realized what was happening.
Rays manager Kevin Cash said Thursday that Arozarena had been badgering him to steal home for weeks. In the 2020 World Series, teammate Manuel Margot was thrown out at home when he attempted a similar steal off Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw, Margot admitting he attempted the steal on his own.
When Arozarena reached third on Thursday night and noticed Taylor’s inattentiveness, he said he gave fair warning, telling third-base coach Rodney Linares, “I’m going to go, I’m going to go.”
Linares still had to clear it with the boss.
“He’s asked me all season long, ‘Verde, verde, verde’ – green light,” Cash said of Arozarena. “We finally gave it to him.”
He easily beat Taylor’s throw home to catcher Christian Vazquez with a headfirst slide to score the final run of the night.
Friday night, Shane Baz will aim to follow in the footsteps of fellow rookie Shane McClanahan – who tossed five scoreless innings in Game 1 – and give the Rays a commanding series lead. With the Red Sox behind the curve after having to win Tuesday’s wild card game to get into ALDS, this is indeed shaping up as the Rays’ clearest path to another World Series shot.
Should they fall short, they’ll just have to settle for breaking the game on the regular – thanks to their outfielder who plays like anything but a rookie.
“The steal of home was one of the coolest things I’ve seen on a baseball field,” says Cash. “This game is all about history. And any time you’re putting your name in those categories like Randy is – I’ve never seen anything like it.”