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Hunter Renfroe gets featured role in Rays' Game 3 glove story in ALCS

He has two of Tampa Bay’s several sterling defensive plays, along with getting a key hit, in a 5-2 win over the Astros.
Rays rightfielder Hunter Renfroe makes a diving catch on a ball hit by the Astros’ George Springer with one on and two out in the seventh inning of Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday at Petco Park in San Diego. He also had an impressive catch in the eighth inning of the Rays' 5-2 win, which gave them a 3-0 lead in the series.
Rays rightfielder Hunter Renfroe makes a diving catch on a ball hit by the Astros’ George Springer with one on and two out in the seventh inning of Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday at Petco Park in San Diego. He also had an impressive catch in the eighth inning of the Rays' 5-2 win, which gave them a 3-0 lead in the series. [ DENIS POROY | Special to the Times ]
Published Oct. 14, 2020|Updated Oct. 14, 2020

When Rays outfielder Hunter Renfroe blooped a two-run double, it seemed poetic. After all, it helped propel the Rays to a 5-2 victory against the frustrated Astros in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night.

It was delivered in his old home, San Diego’s Petco Park.

“That was a big hit, and it opened up the game for us,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.

Nice plot line. For an average movie.

But from start to finish Tuesday night, this was a classic glove story.

So Renfroe was compelled to play along.

He joined a buffet of eye-popping defensive highlights with a pair of risky late-game sliding catches in rightfield, including a heart-stopping grab off Kyle Tucker’s one-out, bases-loaded shot in the eighth inning.

“Those were game-saving, game-changing plays he made,” Cash said. “The first one (on George Springer in the seventh with a runner on first), off the bat, (I thought) there’s no chance he’s going to catch that. But he did."

On Tucker’s eighth-inning shot, Cash said he trusted the instincts of Renfroe, a former Padre who’s ultrafamiliar with Petco Park. It was a good decision “without a doubt.”

“The ball wasn’t hit that hard, and I don’t think it would have (rolled very far),” Cash said. “If you don’t catch it, the runners are working back toward the bases. We trusted Hunter’s judgment, especially in this park.”

Renfroe said he felt confident in the field.

“I’ve had a lot of time in rightfield here,” Renfroe said. "I know the turf. I know the grass. I knew right away what those two balls were going to do. I had to make a good jump and make the plays.

“You just have to read the ball. Hear it off the bat. If you don’t go in right away, you don’t catch those balls. The first step is huge.”

The Rays' sterling defense was contagious. The defensive miniseries starred centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, third baseman Joey Wendle, relief pitcher John Curtiss and Renfroe.

“Most of these postseason games have a game-saving play,” TBS announcer Ron Darling said. “The Rays have one every inning.”

He wasn’t kidding.

Renfroe entered in the sixth, batting for catcher Michael Perez, and produced his two-run double that capped the Rays' scoring in an 11-batter inning. That seemed like nice atonement for Renfroe’s four-strikeout nightmare in Game 1.

The defensive gems made it more sweet.

Renfroe had distinguished company.

In the first inning, it was Kiermaier who leaped high to take away an extra-base hit, and maybe a home run, from Houston’s Alex Bregman. In the third, Kiermaier laid out and dove for a stunning catch of Carlos Correa’s sinking liner that saved a run, maybe two.

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In the sixth, it was Wendle spearing yet another rocket from Bregman on one hop, then throwing to first.

Leading off the seventh, it was relief pitcher John Curtiss contorting his body and hurdling off the mound, then going horizontal to grab a chopper from Yuli Gurriel. He delivered a bazooka toss for the out.

“We feed off our pitching and defense,” Kiermaier said. “We have a lot of guys out there who can make plays. Classic Rays win. Great pitching. Phenomenal defense. Tampa Bay Rays … we’re just being ourselves right there. The pitching and defense were absolutely incredible. That’s what we do.”

“Our defense is just good,” Cash said. “We’ve played tremendous defense all season long.”

Tuesday night might have been the most memorable episode of all.

It was a glove story.

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