ST. PETERSBURG — His grandmother took him to the organization’s first Fan Fest. He collected the giveaway bobbleheads. He had T-shirts of his favorite players and posters in his room.
In 2012, capping his career at Seminole High School, he was named most valuable player of the Pinellas County versus Hillsborough County High School All-Star Game after smacking a bases-loaded triple at Tropicana Field.
“That was probably my coolest memory at the Trop,” Brett Phillips said Friday before the Rays faced the Marlins. “Seeing them go to the World Series (in 2008) and the big hits by Longo (Evan Longoria), that was super exciting. But this tops it now.”
The hometown kid is now a Ray.
Phillips, an outfielder acquired in an Aug. 27 trade with the Royals, was activated Friday after passing COVID-19 protocol. He was the third Seminole Warhawk to see duty with the Rays — along with first baseman Casey Kotchman (2011) and catcher Bobby Wilson (2015-16) — but probably the most enthused about his homecoming.
“My excitement cannot be measured,” said Phillips, who was inserted as a pinch-runner in the eighth inning and stole a base.
He’s seeing his wife for the first time in two months — she works in St. Petersburg — and his family for the first time since February. He’s playing for the hometown club. And that club is in first place.
“It’s a dream inside of a dream,” Phillips said. “When you’re a young kid and you want to play in the big leagues, you don’t care what team you play for. Then when you make it to the big leagues … you want to play for your hometown. Not many guys can say they did this. I’m so thankful to be part of this squad.”
Phillips, who has big-league time with the Brewers and Royals (.205 batting average in 136 games), is best known as a versatile outfielder, an outstanding defender and, in his words, “an energy-giver.”
“Every chance I get called on, whether it’s off the bench or I’m starting that night, I’m giving 100 percent and giving energy,” the 26-year-old said. “That’s who I am. I’m playing each game like it’s my last. It’s (giving) everything I’ve got.”
“You look at what he’s done in the minor leagues and he has checked a lot of boxes,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s going to do special things off the bench, in the outfield and with occasional starts. We’re excited to have that type of player.”
Reliever Nick Anderson (right forearm inflammation) was reinstated from the 10-day injured list, while left-hander Ryan Sherriff was optioned to the alternate training site in Port Charlotte.
Anderson, who worked a scoreless ninth Friday for his fourth save, has not allowed an earned run in 12 games this season, while retiring 16 of his last 19 batters (nine strikeouts).
“We’re thrilled to have him back,” Cash said. “It goes without saying how important he is to our bullpen with the stuff he features. We’ll be very aware of his workload and continue to talk to him (to) see how he’s feeling.”
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To make room for Phillips on the 40-man roster, left-handed reliever Jose Alvarado (left shoulder inflammation) was transferred to the 45-day IL. Cash said he didn’t want Alvarado’s return to be rushed and talked as if it wasn’t a season-ending injury.
“He’s fully capable of being a big part of us if we’re fortunate to somehow get into baseball beyond September,” Cash said.
Can’t wait for fans
Left-hander Blake Snell (3-0, 3.14 ERA), who starts Saturday against the Marlins, said he’s proud of the Rays for properly motivating themselves in the often-odd, fanless atmosphere of COVID-ball. He can’t wait for fans to return.
“I love the fans, love seeing them, love the energy they bring,” he said. “It’s hard to play in front of nobody, but when you have a team like this that’s so focused and so driven, it makes it easier. It’s definitely weird because we all prefer to play with fans.
“It’s always cool to see what fans bring to a place. They make a place. I’m telling you, New York without fans is not New York. New York with fans? That’s a fun place to play. Those fans are on you, they care, they’re passionate. It’s fun to go into stadiums like that and get a win, knowing how many people in that stadium are rooting against you. Everyone in baseball misses the fans.”
Cash agreed with his pitcher’s assessment.
“We’ll all be high-fiving and looking forward to the day that fans come back in,” Cash said.
Morton honored to give back
Right-hander Charlie Morton was chosen as the Rays’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, presented to a player “who best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.’'
Among Morton’s charitable initiatives, he donated $50,000 to Feeding Tampa Bay, which translated it into 4.1 million meals. Morton was also nominated in 2014 (with the Pirates) and 2018 (Astros). Fans can vote through Sept. 27 at mlb.com/clemente21. The overall winner will be announced after the season.
“It’s an interesting award, and I don’t know how to look at it, really,” Morton said. “Do you want to pat yourself on the back because people recognize you for doing the right thing? I’m blessed to have a career where I’ve made a lot of money and been given a platform. With those two things, you can do the right thing and help people.
“Cindy (his wife) and I knew people were going to need help. That’s all we were trying to do (with the Feeding Tampa Bay donation). It stems from the way I was raised. You want to try and help people. It’s not about anything other than that, and we’ll continue to try to do that.”
Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier nearly came up with a spectacular catch that would’ve ended the fifth. After a long run and a leap, the deep drive off Jon Berti’s bat went off the tip of Kiemaier’s glove for a two-run double. “K.K. just missed making what would’ve been the play of the night throughout MLB,” Cash said. … It was the Rays’ ninth straight victory against the Marlins, a streak dating to July 22, 2018. … The Rays were under .500 through Aug. 8 but are 20-4 since then. … Blake Snell is 8-2 with a 1.56 ERA in 14 career interleague starts for MLB’s best interleague ERA since 2016. … When he was suspended from Wednesday’s series finale in New York, Cash said he watched the game from a leftfield Yankee Stadium suite, along with director of team travel and logistics Chris Westmoreland and vice president of communications Dave Haller. “We watched the game and had good conversation,” Cash said. … Following Wednesday’s Tommy John surgery, left-hander Jalen Beeks will return home to Arkansas for initial rehabilitation.