DETROIT — The departure of popular outfielder Brett Phillips left various voids.
Photos of his key moments were taken off the Tropicana Field walls (as the Rays have done with other traded players). Chloe Grimes, the young cancer patient from St. Petersburg who Phillips befriended in April, understandably was upset to hear he was headed to Baltimore. And the team had to change a couple of its celebrations.
When a Ray hit a home run, Phillips would greet him in front of the dugout to remove his helmet (a role he took over from previously traded Willy Adames) and celebrate with a personalized dance move of some sort.
With Kevin Kiermaier — the usual master of ceremonies for their clubhouse victory celebrations — sidelined with a hip injury, Phillips had stepped into the disco ball spotlight, calling out key performers after wins as the music blared.
Now, those have become team efforts.
When Brandon Lowe homered Thursday night, there was a group welcome.
“No helmet off (Thursday), but no shortage of guys up at the front of the dugout,” Lowe said. “I think that’s a ‘Philly’ thing. We’re not going to steal it from ‘Philly.’ I hope he brings it to Baltimore and he brings the energy over there. But there’s no shortage of guys giving high-fives. The excitement is still there.”
Postgame, the Rays are planning to have the star(s) from their previous win run the show, still sorting out how best to do so.
“No one can do what ‘KK’ did,” Lowe said. “‘KK’ brought a different kind of energy, but we’re doing our best to fill the void while he’s gone. …
“We’re still working out some kinks. But it’s something that when you win, you’ve got to celebrate your win. Don’t come in and sit at your locker and be quiet. You won a baseball game, let’s have some fun with it, celebrate it and move on.”
They’re pretty confident the party will continue.
“It was great energy (Thursday) … and a lot of fun. We’re going to try and keep that going,” All-Star Shane McClanahan said. “Obviously, those were two huge guys in our clubhouse. This is what we’ve got now, and we’re going to do the best we can with it.”
“We had ‘KK’ and then ‘Philly,’ so we’re improvising a bit now,” Randy Arozarena said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “But (it’s good) as long as everyone’s happy and we keep winning.”
Phillips, a Seminole High product and fan favorite, was designated for assignment Monday after the Rays acquired Jose Siri from Houston and traded on Tuesday to Baltimore. Before heading out of town, he made a surprise visit to see Grimes and deliver a custom glove they had designed together and he had made for her.
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“Words can not express how much it means to me that he made time in his day with all the things going on in his life to make sure she is okay,” Grimes’ mother posted on Facebook. “He is a selfless man whose compassion and HEART of GOLD is BIGGER than baseball.”
With his No. 35 worn by Orioles young star catcher Adley Rutschman, the always enterprising Phillips went for a high-octane option. It’s no coincidence his jersey now reads like a gas station ad: “Phillips 66.”
He also told Baltimore media he not only was excited to join the Orioles, he was “looking to win a World Series” with them, saying it “would be freaking awesome.” The trade, for an undisclosed amount of cash, reunited Phillips with former Seminole High teammate Joey Krehbiel, an Orioles reliever, as well as Baltimore general manager Mike Elias, the Astros’ scouting director when Phillips was a sixth-round pick in 2012.
What would it have taken for the Rays to rent Juan Soto for a couple of years? Based on what the Nationals got from the Padres for him and Josh Bell, something like a five-six player package that would have included Arozarena, top prospects Taj Bradley and Curtis Mead, and some combination of Shane Baz, Xavier Edwards, Josh Lowe, Isaac Paredes and Luis Patino. … Bradley and Mead were by far the most popular asks, though the Rays got multiple inquiries on Tyler Glasnow as well as prospects Cole Wilcox and Junior Caminero, among others. … There were at least some initial trade talks about Ji-Man Choi, which could have opened a spot for prospect Jonathan Aranda. … Part of the reason for dealing pitching prospects Seth Johnson and Jayden Murray? They had to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason or exposed to being lost in the Rule 5 draft. … Jim Bowden, writing for The Athletic, gave the Rays a C+ for their deadline work, saying trading Johnson, who just underwent Tommy John surgery, may haunt them. … Fangraphs.com’s Ben Clemens labeled their moves “Frenzied and Confusing.” … ESPN.com’s Bradford Doolittle concluded: “As ever, hoping small moves pay off big.”
After having Monday and Thursday off, the Rays have a rugged stretch — playing 17 straight days, getting two off in a four-day span, then closing with 33 games (including a doubleheader) in 34 days. … Entering play Saturday, the Rays had the toughest remaining schedule of AL teams, with an opponent winning percentage of .531. ... Former Rays PR chief Rick Vaughn has written an interesting book about the rich history of spring training called “100 Years of Baseball on St. Petersburg’s Waterfront,” with a signing 6 p.m. Tuesday at the St. Petersburg Museum of History. … It will be most interesting to see if the Rays and Kiermaier have mutual interest in working out a deal for a reduced salary in 2023 or if they part ways once his $13 million option is declined (and he gets a $2.5 million buyout). ... Condolences to the family of Rudy Padron, a 23-year member of the RaysVision crew who died last week of cancer. … Ex-Rays reliever Shawn Camp was named head coach at George Mason University, having been an assistant for three seasons and playing there from 1995-97. … Under a draft of the 2023 schedule being circulated, the Rays open at home March 30 vs. Detroit.
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