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Why Kiermaier to Adames to d’Arnaud will go down in Rays history

A look back at the play that will forever be known as ‘The Relay’
Tampa Bay Rays catcher Travis d'Arnaud (37) reaches back for the tag as Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27) attempts to slide at home plate in the fourth inning in Game 4 of the American League Division Series Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019 in St. Petersburg. Altuve was called out at the plate.
Tampa Bay Rays catcher Travis d'Arnaud (37) reaches back for the tag as Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27) attempts to slide at home plate in the fourth inning in Game 4 of the American League Division Series Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019 in St. Petersburg. Altuve was called out at the plate. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 10, 2019

HOUSTON — In going back over the relay play — or as it’s going to be more formally known, The Relay – in Tuesday’s AL Division Series-extending 4-1 win, manager Kevin Cash gave his Rays what baseball insiders will recognize as the ultimate compliment.

“It’s something,’’ Cash said Wednesday, “you would see in a Tom Emanski video.’’

The longtime scout and coach who produced the well-known, and amusingly advertised, baseball skills videos would indeed be proud of how Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, shortstop Willy Adames and catcher Travis d’Arnaud teamed to throw out Houston’s speedy Jose Altuve at the plate as he tried to score from first during a key juncture in the fourth inning, with the Rays trying to protect a 3-0 lead.

“Everything had to be perfect,’’ Cash said. “And it was.’’

Here is a breakdown, with help from Statcast, of what each of the Rays did right during the 10-second sequence:

Kevin Kiermaier, centerfielder

As the Astros’ Yordan Alvarez laced a Ryan Yarbrough pitch toward the centerfield wall at a sizzling 113.7 mph (in the top one-third of 1 percent of hard-hit balls), Kiermaier quickly broke back and was well-positioned to play the familiar carom as the ball bounced off the turf and then the wall.

“As soon as the ball hit the wall, he was prepared to be there and get rid of it,’’ Cash said.

Standing 384 feet from home, Kiermaier made a strong, on-target throw, clocked at 87.6 mph, to Adames, who was positioned behind second base as the cutoff man.

“Trying to get it to Willy as quickly as possible to give ourselves a chance,’’ Kiermaier said.

“It was a great throw’’ Adames said, “as always.’’

Willy Adames, shortstop

The key to Adames making his own great throw was being properly positioned so he could receive the ball from Kiermaier, make a quick turn and transfer (0.73 seconds) and fire to the plate.

“The last thing you want to do is catch the ball flatfooted,’ Cash said. “So if you recognize you’re getting a good throw from the outfielder, you go ahead and cheat and turn your body.’’

From there, about 178 feet from home, Adames delivered pretty much a strike, perfectly placed for d’Arnaud to finish the play.

“One of the most incredible, most impressive throws I’ve ever seen,’’ Kiermaier said. “He just knew where the target was even though he wasn’t looking and made a perfect throw.’’

Cash said Adames’ throw was the most impressive part of the play: “For Willy to throw it on a dime — if he throws it high, if he short-hops it, Altuve is safe.’’

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In the moment, Adames said he was just reacting to the situation. “I was excited,’’ he said. “That’s a play I always want to make.’’

Travis d’Arnaud, catcher

D’Arnaud insisted Wednesday that he had the easy part, though his well-timed and placed swipe tag was also critical as Altuve went behind the plate and tried to run his left hand across it.

“There were two perfect throws,’’ d’Arnaud said. “Quick and strong throws, and accurate. They literally had to be two perfect throws and two perfect transfers.’’

Altuve was hustling, breaking from first with a 12-foot lead, clocking at 29.8 feet per second (above the major-league average of 27), and with Astros third-base coach Gary Pettis waving him around, going first to home in 10.45 seconds.

D’Arnaud stood at the plate trying to patiently wait for Adames’ throw and get a peek of where Altuve was going.

“I have to know where the plate is the whole time, so I put my feet where I normally do,’’ he said. “As the ball is coming, I know the ball travels faster than if I were to go get it and turn back, so I sat there and waited. I put my leg down as I caught it.

“I saw him going for the hook slide, so I tagged more to the back to protect against that. I tried to tag him as quickly as I could.

And we nailed him.’’

Yes, they did. Maybe the next Tom Emanski video can include The Relay.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays