Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Rays Tales: Rays' greatest defensive plays

Shortstop Yunel Escobar's play in Wednesday's game against the Red Sox was amazing, dazzling, stunning and a whole bunch of other -ing words. It won top honors for the day from ESPN's SportsCenter and has to be considered among the best defensive plays of the season. Which got us thinking here at Rays Tales HQ about the best plays in Rays, and even Devil Rays, history. This is a subjective exercise, of course, and every time the list seemed complete, another option was introduced. That said, with input from Rays staff and players, ESPN's Mark Simon and others, here are 10 of their best defensive plays:

Escobar's flash SS Yunel Escobar, July 24, 2013, at Red Sox

Escobar ranged to his left to snare Dustin Pedroia's grounder, then in one smooth motion flipped the ball behind his back directly from his glove eye-high to 2B Ben Zobrist, who made a barehanded grab and relayed to first. "The most impressive thing," Zobrist said, "was how easy he made it look."

Super Sam takes flight | RF Sam Fuld, April 9, 2011, at White Sox

Fuld, shifted toward center, raced a long way at top speed when Juan Pierre laced a ball toward the rightfield corner, then took flight — "prototypical Superman dive," Fuld called it — and made the catch in nearly horizontal position as he dived toward the wall. "I was screaming from centerfield when he caught it," then-Ray B.J. Upton said. "That's unbelievable."

Crawford's All-Star catch LF Carl Crawford, July 14, 2009, All-Star Game

Crawford did a lot of amazing things in his nine seasons with Tampa Bay, but he never robbed someone of a home run like he did in the 2009 All-Star Game, and he earned MVP honors for it. In a 3-3 tie in the seventh, Crawford raced back and leaped at the wall to deny Colorado's Brad Hawpe a go-ahead homer. "Definitely probably the best catch I ever made," Crawford said.

Crawford's "ability" LF Carl Crawford, May 10, 2010, at Angels

Two things distinguished this play: Crawford raced full speed to his left and went airborne to rob Torii Hunter of extra bases. LHP David Price still considers it the best he has seen. ESPN commentator Bobby Valentine criticized Crawford for making it look harder than it needed to be. "He said I could have caught that ball standing up," Crawford said. "I can't believe he said that. Obviously he don't know what it's like to have this kind of ability."

Upton's infield arm SS B.J. Upton, Sept. 8, 2004, at Yankees

The Devil Rays days had to be represented somehow, and this play was as good as any made in that time. Upton, 20 at the time, robbed Alex Rodriguez of a hit by backhanding a ball in short leftfield and throwing to first without leaping, the bottom half of his body still facing the leftfield corner. "That was nice," noted Yankees SS Derek Jeter. "A really good play."

Upton's outfield arm CF B.J. Upton, Sept. 1, 2012, at Blue Jays

Having lost the night before when Eliot Johnson was thrown out at the plate, the Rays got sweet revenge. Upton played a short hop off the tricky Rogers Centre turf and unleashed a laser — "a 300-foot strike," Jays manager John Farrell called it — to the plate, where C Jose Molina did a masterful job of catching the ball, blocking Omar Vizquel and applying the tag to end the game. Said Upton: "I just let it go."

Longoria's "walkoff" 3B Evan Longoria, June 17, 2008, vs. Cubs

Unaware the coaches were trying to move him, Longoria had to charge in to make a barehanded pickup of Reed Johnson's bunt, which would have scored the tying run, and fired to first, where Willy Aybar scooped the ball for the final out in the defensive version of a walkoff hit. "Probably," then-closer Troy Percival said, "the best bunt play I've ever seen."

Longoria's 2-for-1 3B Evan Longoria, Sept. 16, 2011, at Red Sox

As if it weren't enough that Longoria, playing in, made a full dive to his right to spear Dustin Pedroia's well-struck liner, he landed with his glove on third base, doubling off Mike Aviles. "Just really a reactionary play," Longoria said. "And I was obviously in the perfect position." Some thought it could have been ESPN's Web Gem of 2011.

Ruggiano to the rescue LF Justin Ruggiano, Aug. 27, 2008, vs. Blue Jays

For a part-time player, Ruggiano made a lot of big plays. Few were bigger than a leaping catch Ruggiano, just shifted from rightfield to left, made as he crashed into the wall, then crumbled to the ground for the final out of a 1-0 win. "I knew it was in my glove," Ruggiano said. "I just had to make sure it stayed there."

J.P. goes to the dogs LHP J.P. Howell, Sept. 23, 2012, vs. Blue Jays

Howell made what manager Joe Maddon called an "impossible" play, running off the mound to corral a blooped ball and then, as he fell toward the infield dirt, made a cross-body throw to first to save a run. He credited his dog, Rosie, for keeping him in shape to do such things.

Also worth considering: The sixth-inning triple play in Game 161 of 2011. … Longoria's brazen game-ending double play with the bases loaded vs. the Tigers in 2010. … Dioner Navarro catching Dustin Pedroia stealing to end the sixth inning in Game 7 in the 2008 AL Championship Seroes. … A majors-first 2-6-2 triple play in 2006.

Rays rumblings

Wednesday's $2 Kids Night is the first of "a number of ticket specials and promotions" to "try to pack Tropicana Field" over the final two months, team president Matt Silverman told WDAE-AM 620. … Sound familiar? Ex-Rays/current Cubs C Dioner Navarro on the trade of again-ex-teammate Matt Garza (above left): "He's one of those guys that you can't stand him but you can't live without him." … Sound familiar, too?: Former Rays/current Nats closer Rafael Soriano was pulled from Thursday's game by bench coach Randy Knorr for a lack of intensity in a non-save situation. … RHP Chris Archer made grantland.com's midseason list of the game's most exciting players.

Got a minute? Matt Joyce

Best meal you can make? It depends what your tastes are. I'm a big fan of cooking a filet on the grill … but I also can cook some Italian dishes and some soups that are pretty solid.

Favorite movie? I like Braveheart a lot, and Dumb and Dumber, I could watch that all day every day.

Band you'd like to be on stage with? I actually had the chance to announce Chevelle at (a) Next Big Thing concert, and they've always been one of my favorites.

Dream vacation spot? Italy. I'd like to see all of it.

Celebrity crush? I've always liked Jessica Biel.

Rays Tales: Rays' greatest defensive plays 07/27/13 [Last modified: Saturday, July 27, 2013 10:20pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. What Wilson Ramos will mean to the Rays lineup, pitching

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Chris Archer was stumping for all-star votes for Corey Dickerson during a live interview Wednesday morning on the MLB Network when he lifted the right earpiece on his headset and said, "I hear a buffalo coming."

    Tampa Bay Rays catcher Wilson Ramos (40) waves to the crowd after being presented with the Silver Slugger Award before the start of the game between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.
  2. Jameis Winston as 2017 NFL MVP? 66-to-1 odds from Vegas

    Blogs

    Could Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston be an NFL MVP in 2017? It's certainly unlikely, but the sports book at Bovada has opening lines with Winston getting 66-to-1 odds, worse than 22 other players across the league.

    Bucs fans would be very happy if quarterback Jameis WInston can put himself into consideration for the NFL MVP award during the 2017 season.
  3. Deon Cain, Duke Dawson, Derrick Nnadi among SI's top 100 players

    Blogs

    Sports Illustrated's countdown of the top 100 players in college football continues with three more local players.

  4. The greatest coaches never to win it all

    College

    As foregone conclusions go, some things are approaching the death-and-taxes stratosphere: summer humidity in Florida, a Kardashian seeking attention, and Mike Martin coming up short in Omaha.

    Florida State coach Mike Martin walks to the mound to talk to pitcher Cole Sands during the second inning of the team's NCAA College World Series baseball game against LSU Wednesday in Omaha, Neb. [AP photo]
  5. Bucs fans ranked 25th in study of NFL teams

    Blogs

    The Bucs and their fans are ranked 25th in an Emory University study of NFL teams' "fan base and branding analysis."

    Bucs fans were on their feet for this fourth-quarter play at home against the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium in 2015.