Rays’ Blake Snell is champion of virtual baseball

The pitcher sweeps White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito to win the “MLB The Show” players video game tournament.
Blake Snell, upper left, watches the virtual celebration after his Rays team won the players' "MLB The Show" video game tournament, with the final round shown Sunday on ESPN.
Blake Snell, upper left, watches the virtual celebration after his Rays team won the players' "MLB The Show" video game tournament, with the final round shown Sunday on ESPN. [ MARC TOPKIN | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published May 3, 2020|Updated May 4, 2020

For now, the only formal competition for major-league players has been participating in MLB The Show’s video game tournament.

And Blake Snell on Sunday made the most of it, winning the championship by leading the Rays to a three-game sweep of Lucas Giolito’s White Sox in the finals.

Snell, a serious gamer who streams his play almost daily via the Twitch channel, was among the favorites going into the 30-player tournament, and said he expected to come out on top.

Related: Rays minor-leaguer Blake Bivens shares details of family tragedy

“I was super confident going into it," he said on a Sunday night conference call.

“I really thought I was going to win it just because of how much I’ve played MLB The Show."

Snell said the opportunity to compete against other big leaguers made the tournament a lot of fun, and, at some times, a bit more tense than he expected.

“It was cool to feel the adrenaline to play these guys and kind of make it feel somewhat real," he said. “I didn’t think I was going to get nervous at all (but) even when I knew I was going to win I still got a little nervous."

Snell laughed and trash-talked his way to a league-best 24-5 regular-season mark, but said he locked in a bit for the playoffs, losing only one three-inning game in beating Gavin Lux (Dodgers) 2-0, Jeff McNeil (Mets) 2-1 and Giolito 3-0.

“I’m a terrible loser so I made sure the only thing I was doing was winning," he said. “I made sure I did everything I could to win."

Snell said Austin Meadows and Mike Zunino were the team MVPs. He used Charlie Morton and Yonny Chirinos to handle most of the starting pitching, noting his own player in the game was not very good.

Snell gets a trophy for his victory, and he won an extra $25,000 for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast, a bonus from the league, the players union and Sony Interactive Entertainment on top of the $5,000 donated to each participant.

Snell said he enjoyed seeing how many fans, and some other players, were following the tournament, and appreciated the support from the Rays social media staff. “It was cool to see everyone in baseball enjoying it, having fun with it and being a part of it," he said.

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The playoffs were shown on TV, split among FS1, ESPN2 and ESPN for Sunday’s final, as the networks and league officials tried to provide alternative programming during the coronavirus-caused shutdown of the sport in addition to replays of old games, and in a format that allowed the players to showcase their personalities.

“They showed their competitiveness, and at the end of the day, that’s what fans love to see,” commissioner Rob Manfred said on Sunday’s show. “Emotion and competitiveness really go a long way, and it made the programming really good. (The tournament) gives our fans an opportunity to interact with the game we all love in the absence of the game being playing live on the field. We hope in some small way, it helped fill a void in their lives."