Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rookie Myers practically carrying Rays

ST. PETERSBURG

Joe Maddon calls him Ricky Bobby, the Will Ferrell character. That's because he wakes up every day and, shall we say, oozes confidence.

Wil Myers isn't crazy about the nickname, although it's true that he doesn't lack belief in himself.

But, truth be told, even Myers never saw this coming. Not this season. Not now.

Late Monday, when all the cameras and lights and microphones moved along and he sat quietly at his locker putting on his socks and shoes inside the Rays clubhouse, he was asked if he ever imagined being the star in a pennant race.

He smiled and in his North Carolina accent said, "No. Not really."

Yet here we are, at the most critical juncture of the Rays season, and Myers — the 22-year-old kid who wasn't even supposed to help until a few more miles down the highway — has decided to lift the club up on his back and see if he can't carry it to the postseason.

On Monday night with the Rays starting a crucial four-game series against the Rangers, a team they were tied with atop the AL wild-card race, Myers clubbed the Rays to a 6-2 victory before a pathetically small crowd of less than 11,000.

Those who bothered to show up saw a player as responsible as anyone on this team this season for putting the Rays in position to make the playoffs.

On Monday, he hit a homer, doubled, drove in three and scored two. He actually came within a few feet of hitting two more homers.

"I honestly thought both of them were gone," Myers said.

Here's the deal: The biggest trade the Rays have ever made — sending ace pitcher James Shields to Kansas City for Myers last December — was supposed to be a move for the future. What an early Christmas gift. Turns out, it was the best move for the present.

The Rays never wanted to trade Shields. They really had no choice.

Shields was on his way to becoming a free agent. The Rays couldn't afford to keep him in the long run. They had an excess of pitching and needed a big bat.

So they sifted through all the potential deals and decided to ship Shields to the Royals for Myers. There were others involved in the trade, but, really, this trade came down to Shields for Myers.

The Rays fully believed Myers would be a star. After all, he was the 2012 minor-league player of the year. But it's hard to imagine that even they thought he could be this good this soon.

"He did not have a good spring," Maddon said. "So you have to really rely on … the scouting information. And you could see really special stuff in there."

Special, but raw. And seemingly a year or two from having a major and consistent impact.

But Myers hit the fast-forward button on his career.

Since being called up in mid June, Myers leads the Rays in hits, RBIs, runs and slugging percentage. He has a chance to become the first player ever to lead American League rookies in homers and RBIs while playing fewer than 90 games.

If you were to spread out Myers' numbers over 162 games, here's what you would get: a .298 average with 27 homers and 101 RBIs.

This is your AL rookie of the year, folks.

But, forget all that. Here's the important part: In the heat of a pennant race, while several Rays sluggers have gone into slumps, Myers has only gotten hotter.

In September, he is batting .352 with four homers and 10 RBIs. Of his 19 hits this month, 11 have been for extra bases.

"We thought that he could make this kind of impact," Maddon said. "So it's not totally surprising."

For Myers, this is all no big deal. He loves saying everything is "cool" and "awesome." When asked about his play, he talks about the team. When given a chance to brag about himself, he brags about his teammates.

But, finally, when pressed, he admits, "Yeah, I'm having a lot of fun."

Shields is having a solid year in Kansas City and, perhaps, the Rays could have used him at various points this season.

However, if the Royals called the Rays right now and offered Shields back for Myers, they would be crazy to take such a deal. Not only would it not make sense for the next 10 years, it wouldn't make sense for the next 10 days.

It's hard to imagine the Rays being in better shape with Shields. It's impossible to believe they would be in the hunt without Myers.

The trade for the future has turned out to be a trade for the present.

And, quite possibly, a trade for the ages.

 
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