Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier content with celebrating his way

The outfielder celebrated his walk-off hit Sunday with hugs and high-fives, clear violations of social-distancing guidelines.
Tampa Bay Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, right, who had the winning hit in the 10th inning Sunday, hugs Jose Martinez.
Tampa Bay Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, right, who had the winning hit in the 10th inning Sunday, hugs Jose Martinez. [ JONAH HINEBAUGH | Times ]
Published July 27, 2020|Updated July 28, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Kiermaier celebrated his game-winning hit Sunday afternoon the only way he said he knows how: with a flurry of hugs and high-fives at home plate that violated every social-distancing guideline in the book.

Kiermaier’s two-run, 10-inning triple into the rightfield corner gave the Rays their first walk-off win of the season, a 6-5 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field.

While players are adhering to social-distancing protocols in the dugout and bullpen, spreading out into the seating bowl, it’s more difficult to control what happens on the field in the heat of the moment. And after Kiermaier won Sunday’s game, he hugged teammate Jose Martinez at home plate, offered high-fives to more than a dozen teammates and embraced manager Kevin Cash on his way back to the dugout.

“It was a heat-of-the-moment thing for me,” Kiermaier said Monday. “I don’t regret it one bit, I really don’t. I knew what I was doing. … I’m one of those guys where I’m trying to do everything in my power to keep myself motivated and the others around me, and I want everyone to always remember how much fun winning is.”

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Cash said that it’s his job to remind players to have more socially-distant celebrations.

“We probably need to do a good job of recognizing that,” Cash said. “There’s no denying it is tough. But it’s better than to be tough and then to have, you know, an outbreak. So we’ve got to do a better job, I’ve got to do a better job of ... holding each other accountable throughout some of those celebrations.”

On Monday, two major-league games were postponed after the Marlins were quarantined in a Philadelphia hotel following 11 players testing positive for COVID-19. Miami’s home opener against the Orioles and the Phillies’ home game against the Yankees were postponed as visiting clubhouse personnel were tested for COVID-19.

“Even after that and see what happens in what happened with Miami, we’re going to continue to have to make adjustments to continue to be smart,” Rays catcher Mike Zunino said when asked about how difficult it has been to hold back from typical celebrations. “Because you know one little thing like that could lead to something more serious.”

Kiermaier said that in an atmosphere absent of the energy that fans in the stands provide, he’s always going to be looking for ways to manufacture excitement.

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“You only have so long to play this game and I just choose not to let a pandemic or anything totally affect how I go about my business or my attitude or my demeanor,” Kiermaier said. “And I just hope it’s a contagious one where those fun times that we have, I hope that everyone is able to have as many of those as possible given the circumstances. ...

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“But I love playing this game, I love having fun and I don’t plan on stopping. Maybe I should cut the hugs down from here on out, but walk-offs are fun and to have a huge bounce-back win like that (Sunday), it was hard to keep my emotions in and I know a lot of other guys thought the exact same thing.”

Quick hits

Right-handed reliever Diego Castillo was activated from the paternity list. Castillo, who missed three games, pitched a perfect fifth inning Monday against the Braves, striking out two of the three batters he faced. He eventually picked up the win. Also Monday, infielder Daniel Robertson was reassigned to the team’s alternate training site in Port Charlotte. … Cash said that Austin Meadows’ workouts in Port Charlotte are going well, and the team’s main concern is preventing any small tissue injuries that a premature return could prompt.