NEW YORK — Travis d’Arnaud didn’t know what to expect when he was acquired suddenly by the catcher-desperate Rays in mid-May, jumped on a red-eye flight from LA and immediately started working feverishly just to try to fit in.
Certainly not to earn a place in Rays history by keying one of their most dramatic regular-season wins with one of the most prolific offensive nights, the last of his three homers resulting in 5-4 stunner over the Yankees.
Rays radio man Andy Freed referenced the iconic Dan Johnson home run against the Red Sox in September 2008 race, tweeting after Monday’s game he “Can’t think of a bigger, more shocking regular season road win” since then.
Also, that d’Arnaud would again be the talk of the town that had been home when he played for the Mets, and splashed across the back pages.
“FREAKING AMAZIN’” screamed the Daily News, while the New York Post went with “d’ARNOOO!"
D’Arnaud called it his “coolest night ever," and that may have been an understatement.
For a guy who was released by the Mets and signed by the Dodgers as something of a flyer before being dealt to the Rays (for the bargain price of $100,000), d’Arnaud has certainly taken advantage of the opportunity.
The three homers were the most he’s hit in any game at any level, and matched the most by a Rays player, joining Evan Longoria (who he watched growing up in the Long Beach, Calif., area), B.J. Upton and Jonny Gomes.
Doing it at this point of the season, with the Rays going into the showdown series trailing the AL East leading Yankees by six games, and on the stage of a raucous Yankee Stadium showed something as well.
“He’s played in this environment," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who haven’t. He was fortunate to play over there with the Mets – a lot of big games, a lot of fans, bright lights. That certainly has got to play a factor when he’s gotten some of these big opportunities to come through."
D’Arnaud also hit a walkoff homer to beat the Yankees at the Trop on July 6, and said “it’s really exciting" to beat them again, but he didn’t want to make any more of it than that.
He’s more focused on continuing to play well for the Rays, having earned more playing time and a more significant spot in the order for good reason. Adding Monday’s three homers and five RBIs, he has now hit in nine straight games, with a .444 average (16-for-36), 11 runs, five homers, 10 RBIs and a 1.429 OPS. Overall in 39 games for the Rays, he is hitting .282 with nine homers, 26 RBIs and an .884 OPS.
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Cash offered a couple reasons for the resurgence, specifically noting the impact hitting coach Chad Mottola has had.
“It’s probably a little bit of everything," Cash said. “I know him and Chad have worked really hard. They have a relationship, they had a relationship years ago in Toronto when Travis was coming up before he got traded to the Mets and they rekindled that. That helps.
“I think confidence helps. You have success you’re going to get some confidence. And he’s made the most of his playing time. It’s kind of all come together at the right time for him."
There’s also a comfort factor, as d’Arnaud, 30, had to get re-acclimated after missing most of 2018 due to Tommy John elbow surgery, and adjusted to his new team in a new league.
What made it click now?
“Who knows," d’Arnaud said. “I know after 50 at-bats I started feeling more comfortable. I don’t know why, but that was the number. As far as catching, right when I came over here I felt comfortable. We’ve got a great pitching coach in (Kyle Snyder). Cash has been great. (Field coordinator/catching coach Paul Hoover) has been great.
“Everyone’s been great in helping me get back to the player I know I can be."
The Rays will take it.
Even better against the Yankees.