ST. PETERSBURG — Even in the age of inflation for offensive statistics throughout baseball, 100 runs batted in remains a big deal.
Certainly around the Rays, who haven’t had a player reach that round number since 2010, when Evan Longoria did it for the second straight season.
But Austin Meadows, who on Tuesday picked up his 93rd RBI — fifth-most in the majors — is on deck to join Longoria and the four other Rays who from 1999-2008 combined for 10 triple-digit seasons of runs batted in.
“For anyone, I think, for sure, that’s a pretty special accomplishment,” Meadows said. “It’s just a testament to our guys getting on base and getting a lot of those opportunities this year to be able to do that. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be where I’m at.
“So, yeah, I think that’s a goal to have, for sure. I think it’s reachable. For me, just continue to try to do my job, and we’ll kind of see where that number lies.”
Meadows has a workmanlike attitude to driving in runs, seeing the production as a key responsibility for hitting third or fourth in the order, and made some changes in his approach at the plate to do so more frequently.
Specifically, finding ways to put the ball in play more in those situations, as shown by his team-leading .319 average with runners in scoring position (compared to .234 overall).
“If a pitcher makes a good pitch with two strikes or something like that, not wasting those opportunities to get those runs in,” Meadows said. “Just try to put the bat on the ball and have a good at-bat.
“That’s kind of what it really comes down to is not trying to do too much, having a good at-bat and trying to find a pitch to hit and put into play. So I think the situation, obviously, dictates that as well, wherever the score is, getting bigger or not, but really, it’s just simplifying my approach. And that’s something I’ve kind of focused on throughout this year.”
Manager Kevin Cash has noticed the adjustments Meadows — who also ranks third on the team with 22 homers — has made.
“Austin has been just a mainstay this year for us and has shown a knack for coming up with just big hits with guys on base,” Cash said.
“He gets there sometimes with the home run and sometimes he gets it with the single over the shortstop’s head like he did against Chicago (Aug. 22), three RBIs (total) and really just found ways to put the ball in play and get some hits. He’s done it with sac flies. I think it takes a knack, it takes a mentality, and Austin has shown that he’s got it.”
Meadows also has done it when it matters most, leading the majors with 19 game-winning RBIs and 28 go-ahead RBIs.
Hitting coach Chad Mottola said Meadows has been consistent in his approach to cut down on his swing, find ways to put the ball in play and adjust in two-strike situations.
“That’s where his strength has been all year,” Mottola said. “So it’s kind of lined up where those situations come up to improve on those numbers where it’s rewarding for him. So I think consciously, subconsciously, whatever it may be, there’s been an accepting of base hits in those situations with a runner on second or third. And he’s done well.”
Want more than just the box score?
Subscribe to our free Rays Report newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Cash is hoping Meadows gets to 100, and the sooner the better.
“It’s been quite some time since we’ve had that, and we’ve had some good teams, some playoff teams” said Cash, who had 58 career big-league RBIs over parts of eight seasons. “I mean, that’s a lot of RBIs. I would assume, with health, he’s going to reach that big number.”
So, too, does teammate Brandon Lowe, who said the Rays now expect Meadows to deliver whenever there are runners on.
“I told him that if I’m his 100th RBI, he owes me a steak,” Lowe said. “So I need to start getting on more.”
100 RBI club
Five players in Rays history have had 100 RBIs in a season, and combined to do so 10 times. But none have done it since 2010. Austin Meadows is in position to join the list:
Player, Year RBIs Avg. HR OPS
Carlos Pena, 2007 121 .282 46 1.037
Jorge Cantu, 2005 117 .286 28 .808
Evan Longoria, 2009 113 .281 33 .889
Aubrey Huff, 2003 107 .311 34 .922
Fred McGriff, 2000 106 .277 27 .826
Fred McGriff, 1999 104 .310 32 .957
Aubrey Huff, 2004 104 .297 29 .853
Evan Longoria, 2010 104 .294 22 .879
Carlos Pena, 2008 102 .247 31 .871
Carlos Pena, 2009 100 .227 39 .893
• • •
Sign up for the Rays Report weekly newsletter to get fresh perspectives on the Tampa Bay Rays and the rest of the majors from sports columnist John Romano.