ARLINGTON, Texas — Everywhere you looked, it seemed time was running out for Brandon Lowe. On the scoreboard, on the calendar, on the faces of Rays fans who had seen one strikeout too many this October.
His batting average was below water and his status as a rising star might have taken a little dip, too. After a strikeout and three popups in Game 1 of the World Series, there was no indication the Rays second baseman was any closer to putting his worst slump behind him.
So, tell me, how do you explain what happened Wednesday night?
Do you subscribe to the theory that October is made for baseball’s best fairy tales, or do you simply believe in the perseverance of an athlete who refuses to bow?
Was it fate, or was it faith?
And, after Lowe hit two home runs in a 6-4 victory over the Dodgers in Game 2, does it really matter?
“The team was winning, and that’s what was important to him,” his wife, Madison Lowe, said Wednesday night. "It would have been selfish of him to pout about his at-bats when things were going well around him.
“That’s what it means to be a professional. Obviously, the timing of his slump wasn’t ideal, but he wasn’t going to overthink it and let it get in his head.”
Try to imagine that. Try to imagine what it’s like to have your greatest disappointment dissected nightly on prime-time television. Try to imagine what it’s like to see your batting average taunting you from the centerfield scoreboard.
Try to imagine the fear that a season might end prematurely, and you might feel responsible.
And then imagine the focus it takes to ignore all of that and hit a 95 mph fastball from Tony Gonsolin over the 407-foot sign in dead centerfield at Globe Life Field.
“It does take a little mental fortitude to be able to withstand that,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “You’re already putting pressure on yourself to do the hardest thing in sports, and that’s to hit a baseball. And now you’re trying to do it against the best pitching in baseball in the playoffs and the World Series. You’ve got to be able to be tough-minded, and Brandon is.”
That first-inning bomb was, you can be sure, more than just a home run. It was a rescue, a message, a sigh of relief. It was nearly as big as Mike Brosseau’s Game 5 homer against the Yankees and Randy Arozarena’s Game 7 homer against the Astros.
It was the first outward sign that an underachieving offense was finally alive. Six runs. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it was a tsunami for Tampa Bay. It was the Rays' biggest offensive outburst in two weeks.
“When Brandon hits that ball in the first inning, it gave everybody a chance to exhale after what happened in the game (Tuesday) night,” said Rays hitting coach Chad Mottola. “After that, it felt like everything was back to normal and we were ready to attack again.”
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Frankly, it had been getting harder and harder to see how the Rays could have a chance in this World Series without Lowe’s bat.
Arozarena had carried the offense against the Yankees and Astros, but that kind of hot streak always comes with an expiration date. And, as if on cue, Arozarena has been largely quiet through the first two Series games.
And while plenty of other hitters had been struggling, nobody in Tampa Bay’s lineup meant as much as Lowe in 2020. Nobody was even close.
According to MLB.com’s statcast calculations, he barreled a pitch up in 10.7 percent of his plate appearances. That basically means he had an exit velocity of more than 98 mph with enough launch angle to do damage. Nobody else on the Rays was even at 6 percent.
Yet coming into Wednesday night’s game, Lowe was hitting .107 with 19 strikeouts in 56 at-bats. Even his hits were far weaker than anything we were used to seeing.
“To say that my mind wasn’t going to different places during that kind of struggle would be lying to you,” Lowe said. "There were times I wasn’t feeling too good, but that’s what’s great about this team, this coaching staff. As soon as I started dragging my feet, someone was there telling me to focus up and let’s get going.
“I used to be really bad with that back in college and in high school, and even in pro ball in some of the lower levels. I would think about it and take it home with me,” Lowe said. “But it doesn’t matter If I go 5-for-5 with five homers or 0-for-5 with five strikeouts. Once I get home, see my wife, it flushes the day. I wake up the next day and prepare for that day.”
John Romano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.