Rays’ Margot sets tone with HR, stuns with catch

  • Sports reporter, Kansas City Star, 2002-09
  • Writer, Baseball, Baseball Prospectus
  • Co-author, Pro Basketball Prospectus
  • Member, Baseball Writers Association of America
  • Member, Professional Basketball Writers Association

The Tampa Bay Rays, a team that relies on small contributions from the many rather than large contributions from the few, seem to uncover a new hero with each step along their path to the American League pennant. On Monday, it was Manny Margot’s turn.

Margot was the star of Tampa Bay’s 4-2 victory in Game 2 of the AL Championship Series, as the Rays grabbed a 2-0 lead in the series by showcasing Margot’s skills on both sides of the ball.

At the plate, Margot’s first-inning, three-run homer off Houston Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. gave the Rays a lead they never relinquished. In the field, Margot’s tumbling-over-the-wall catch of a foul drive off the bat of Houston’s George Springer with two out and two runners in scoring position in the second inning snuffed an Astros rally.

“Manny, he has really turned it on with the home run,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said of the outfielder. “We didn’t see many during the regular season, but I think he’s got now three huge home runs for us here in the postseason.

“And then the play, just to have the ability to know where you’re at and the effort to say, ‘Forget it, I’m gonna hit something, but I’m going in,’ and still hang on to the ball was really, really impressive.”

Margot’s homer binge comes on the heels of a regular season in which he hit just one long ball. It’s further evidence of a club for which everything seems to be coming together at the right time.

“These guys are all-in for each other,” said Rays starting pitcher Charlie Morton, the beneficiary of Margot’s acrobatics. “[They] put their bodies on the line. They have been doing that all year.”

Margot’s catch is sure to be a highlight-reel favorite. As Springer’s drive sliced toward the grandstand, Margot caught up with it at the warning track, and as the ball settled into his glove, he flipped up and over the guardrail before tumbling about 6 feet to the ground on the wrong side of the rail. He held his glove up to show right-field umpire Manny Gonzalez that he held on to the ball.

“Manny is great,” Morton said. “He had a huge game. That play was unbelievable. I’m just glad he is OK, but that was phenomenal.”

When asked whether he enjoyed the home run or the catch more, Margot said the answer was easy.

“Definitely the home run,” Margot said through an interpreter. “The home run didn’t hurt, and it definitely helped us gain the lead.”

Margot was acquired by the Rays from the San Diego Padres before the season in exchange for reliever Emilio Pagan. He spent parts of four seasons with San Diego, making him one of the few Rays familiar with the ALCS venue, Petco Park. He hit .269 during the season with the lone homer — after he hit 33 over his last three seasons with the Padres.

The year has been rough for Margot, 26, in more ways than what happened on the field. He was placed on the bereavement list in early August after his father died in the Dominican Republic.

“My dad passing away during the season — obviously that was tough,” Margo said. “But you’ve got to find a way to stay positive, and you’ve got to move on.”

Cash said that rooming with upbeat Rays shortstop Willy Adames helped Margot transition to his new club, even as the Rays waited out the shutdown of baseball due to the COVID-10 pandemic with the rest of the industry. After Monday’s game, Adames seemed happier than anyone for Margot, marveling at a question about whether Margot’s catch ought to be enshrined on a T-shirt.

“I hope they make a T-shirt out of that,” Adames said. “It would be dope if they make a T-shirt of that. That was unbelievable — like, incredible, man.”

The way things have been going for the Rays this postseason, by the time they are through, every player is going to have a T-shirt.

“We got a talented group of players, and sometimes that talent doesn’t always show up at the same time,” Cash said. “But right now, certainly on the pitching and the defense, it’s there. They are playing with very minimal margin of error, and they’re getting it done.”

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