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Rays-Astros: Everyone wants in the Tommy Pham Club.

Martin Fennelly: Rays driven star sets Game 4 afire early to ignite Tampa Bay’s 4-1 win over Houston.
Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter Tommy Pham (29) rounds the bases after connecting for a solo homer in the first inning against the Houston Astros in Game 4 of the American League Division Series Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019 in St. Petersburg. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Published Oct. 9
Updated Oct. 9

ST. PETERSBURG – Time to start a Tommy Pham Club.

First, who set this man on fire?

Who made him hungry?

Who made him an angry young Pham?

Answer: Does it matter?

Thomas James Pham, 31, arrived from St. Louis, a baseball mecca, last summer to play baseball in the village of Tampa Bay his way, hard, unflinching. He has never quite understood how this area couldn’t embrace this game as he and his teammates have. The answer is complicated, but so is Pham. He announced his presence with authority and has kept running through walls since, yeah, even when he gets thrown out running bases.

But it is October. Tuesday night, in Game 4 of the American League Division Series, the forever focused, driven and occasionally angry Pham, playing hurt, playing hard, playing designated hitter, zeroed in again and hit a solo home run in the first inning, the first chink in the armor of untouchable Justin Verlander, to start Tampa Bay on its way to a 4-1 win to tie this series with untouchable Houston.

Who made this man angry?

Who cares?

Most of us have run into Pham after games and sometimes we come away thinking we should swap licenses and registration with him. Metal bangs. One night, after Pham made a good decision on the base paths to bring home a Rays run. but he didn’t want to talk. “I’m done,” he said, and he was.

There was another night, late in the season as the Rays chased down a wild card, when the team was having fun with the rookies on a dress-up trip to Toronto. Pham nearly doubled over with laughter. He loves his guys and they love him. Then he vowed to a teammate that he was done with the rather nice shirt he had worn to the Trop that day.

“There’s no hits in this,” Pham said.

What makes Tommy the Pham of the hour?

Was it the fractured childhood, the father in prison, a man Pham doesn’t really know or ever want to know? Was it his mother gallantly struggling to lead the family? Was it welfare checks, an early life which screamed no way out? Or the eye condition that threatened to end his career? Or that long road, nine years in the minors?

Pham trampled down all that. He just can’t turn off what got him here.

“It comes,’’ Pham told Times baseball writer Marc Topkin during spring training this year. “from everything I’ve been through in life.’’

In his first full season with the Rays, Pham led the team in at-bats, hits, doubles walks. He was a 20-20 man, hitting 21 homers and stealing a team-high 25 bases. In the wild-card game in Oakland, he was one of the Rays who homered. He had three more hits Tuesday and is batting .412 in the postseason. He is rising to the challenge.

And it came in handy Tuesday.

“He’s dialed it in,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Whatever intensity level he gets to during the regular season, he’s got another one he can get to in the postseason. I got to be careful what I say to him sometimes during the game because I don’t want him to pinch my neck.”

“Yeah, me and him go at it,” Pham said.

How life shaped Pham, molded his inner fury, doesn’t seem to matter much at the moment.

What means everything is that he is here and now and not backing down, from anything, and that includes the 107-win Astros. His teammates followed T. Pham’s lead. Pham has been beating odds his entire life. What was that 2-2 changeup from Verlander in the first inning compared to that?

First pitch, curveball," Pham said. “Then he started dumping sliders. And 2-2, he decided to throw the changeup. I mean, he pitches me tough. I just happened to put a good swing on that pitch.”

“Tommy knows one way: all the way,” Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier said late this season.

The Rays didn’t touch Verlander in Game 1. He threw seven innings, allowed just one hit and no runs. But he was pitching on three days rest, and someone had to tell him that it was going to be a different sort of evening. Pham was the first to speak up.

History beckons, a potential impossible Rays comeback in this best-of-five. They took down King Kong on Tuesday. All that’s left is Godzilla: 20-game winner Gerrit Cole, who shut the Rays down on four hits and 14 strikeouts as Houston seized a 2-0 lead.

The Rays have seized right back. Pham was the first to grab hold and give this series a shake Tuesday. Blake Snell came out of the bullpen to close it.

“Did you hear how loud they were playing his walkout (music)?” Pham said. Did you see me in the dugout? I was lit, Man."

It’s on to Game 5 on Thursday and all that comes with that.

Pinch yourself.

The Rays are back.

Thomas James Pham is helping to light the way, all the way.

Contact Martin Fennelly at or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.


  1. Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Tommy Pham (29) takes a moment in the dugout after the Rays 6-2 loss to the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the American League Division Series Friday, Oct. 4, 2019 in Houston. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    When deal is announced Friday, Rays will add power and young talent, and save on Pham’s projected $8.6 million salary.
  2. It would help if regular season crowds were as large and enthusiastic as the American League Division Series against Houston last month. As it is, the Rays have been at the bottom of the American League in attendance for much of the past decade despite one of the highest win totals in baseball. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    John Romano | Mayor Rick Kriseman’s decision to dismiss the shared city plan with Montreal means the Rays probably won’t get a stadium deal until their lease runs out in St. Pete in 2028.
  3. Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg is excited to have a home playoff game for the first time since 2013. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    In a statement, principal owner Stuart Sternberg said they still believe the sister city plan is worth considering.
  4. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said he will not allow the Tampa Bay Rays to split its season in Montreal. The city and team are once again at an impasse until 2027, when the Trop contract ends and the Rays could move wherever the team wishes. CHRIS URSO  |  Times
    St. Petersburg’s mayor said he won’t give the Rays permission to explore playing in both Tampa Bay and Montreal. The team would become a free agent franchise after 2027.
  5. Joe Garvey (right) with Steve Garvey 1970's.  Photo Provided By Garvey Family Tampa Tribune
    John Romano | Steve Garvey does not have the cumulative stats of a Hall of Famer, but he was an MVP and 10-time All-Star and one of the most recognizable players of the 1970s and ’80s.
  6. Guillermo Heredia, center and the Tampa Bay Rays celebrate on the field after defeating the Toronto Blue Jays to clinch a wildcard playoff birth. Friday, Sept. 27, 2019 in Toronto, Canada DIRK SHADD   |   TIMES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Among others of potential interest who were made free agents elsewhere: Ex-Rays Steven Souza and C.J. Cron.
  7. Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Chaz Roe (52) delivers a pitch in the sixth inning against the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the American League Division Series Monday, Oct. 7, 2019 in St. Petersburg. DOUGLAS CLIFFORD  |  Times
    Monday at 8 p.m. is when teams have to tender contracts to rostered players or they become free agents.
  8. If the Rays hadn't already committed to Mike Zunino (above), he would likely be just the kind of catcher they would be looking to as a replacement for Travis d'Arnaud. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Rays Tales: A look at two of their biggest decisions thus far, plus who are all these ex-Rays managing, and rumblings.
  9. The Pirates posted the news of Derek Shelton's hiring on Twitter. Twitter
    Current Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro was a finalist for the last remaining opening in the majors, for now anyway.
  10. The Rays acquired former Cincinnati Reds first baseman Brian O'Grady (34) on Wednesday. AARON DOSTER  |  AP
    With a roster spot opened, they add a first baseman/outfielder who put up big numbers at Triple-A last season.