TORONTO — The Rays celebrated Roberto Clemente Day in a remarkable way Thursday — with the first batting order in major-league history with all nine players from Latin American countries.
Making it more special, all wore No. 21 as part of the majors-wide tribute to Clemente, the legendary Pirates outfielder and humanitarian from Puerto Rico who was the first Latin American player inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“They let us know right after the game,” first baseman Harold Ramirez said of the historic achievement. “That was a surprise. That’s very good for the team and for every Latin player. And on this day it’s more special because it’s Roberto Clemente Day.”
That it happened Thursday was appropriate but coincidental, manager Kevin Cash said.
Twelve of the Rays’ 14 current active position players are Latin American. Cash wanted to use a right-handed-heavy lineup given the matchup with Toronto’s Kevin Gausman, who has been tougher on lefties. So Cash started only one lefty, veteran David Peralta (who had the most experience against Gausman), and switch-hitter Wander Franco, and left out Ji-Man Choi (born in Korea) and switch-hitter Taylor Walls (United States), along with Latinos Jonathan Aranda, Christian Bethancourt and Francisco Mejia.
“It just worked out that they were all of the Latin background,” Cash said. “That’s pretty cool, though. I’m shocked that that has never been done in baseball.”
The Rays were first alerted to the historic significance in a Twitter message from Tony Menendez, a blogger originally from Puerto Rico who has a keen interest in the international composition of lineups. Rays baseball communications manager Craig Vanderkam then researched and confirmed it, as did Major League Baseball staff.
The players were told after the game and posed for a photo on the Rogers Centre field. The Hall of Fame asked for the lineup card.
“We’re very happy, especially on a day like (Thursday),” Yandy Diaz said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “I think the Latinos are really putting a stamp on the game of baseball.”
The day already was going to be special for the Rays.
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MLB planned to allow only players from Puerto Rico and past and previous Clemente Award candidates to wear No. 21, but the Rays’ Latin players (none of whom are from Puerto Rico) pushed to do so, too. Clubhouse and equipment manager Tyler Wall made it happen, with 14 players, plus base coaches Rodney Linares and Chris Prieto, wearing the number. Other players throughout the majors wore a small sleeve patch with the 21 in Pirates colors.
“I think every Latin player should be very proud of what (Clemente) did — not only on the field but off the field,” outfielder Manuel Margot said via Navarro. “He was a role model to everyone, and he was just a very good person.”
Added Ramirez: “It’s a very important day for us, because he’s special for every Latin guy. He’s like Jackie Robinson for us.”
The Rays will have some Clemente Day-related events Friday for their home game against Texas, honoring Clemente Award nominee Brandon Lowe, hosting a food drive (nonperishable items in exchange for 2023 tickets, pregame salsa dancing lessons (5:40-6:50 p.m. in the party deck) and $10 pina coladas.
Lowe got a second opinion consistent with the original diagnosis of his latest back issue, that with rest and treatment (likely including epidural injections) he could return this season. “It was a very good report,” Cash said. ... Shane Baz, sidelined since July with a right elbow sprain, is feeling better, throwing pain-free and may get back on the mound soon but definitely won’t return to pitch in games this season, Cash said. ... Lefty Josh Fleming was sent down to make room for Shane McClanahan to be activated off the injured list. ... Brooks Raley is set to be activated Friday from the restricted list, where he was the previous four days as he is unvaccinated and not allowed to enter Canada. ... The Rays threw their 10th shutout. ... Radio broadcaster Dave Wills was said to be “under the weather” and missed the game.... Fans brought Choi some Korean food snacks; he signed a couple of balls to thank them, then shared with the team. ... Corey Kluber said he was confident that when he faces the Rangers Friday he will rebound from his career-shortest outing Sunday, getting only two outs and allowing six runs: “Aside from a few pitches, it wasn’t as bad as it ended up being.”
Here are the nine players that were in the Rays’ batting order:
Yandy Diaz, 3b (Cuba)
Randy Arozarena, rf (Cuba)
Wander Franco, ss (Dominican Republic)
Harold Ramirez, 1b (Colombia)
Manuel Margot, dh (Dominican Republic)
David Peralta, lf (Venezuela)
Isaac Paredes, 2b (Mexico)
Rene Pinto, c (Venezuela)
Jose Siri, cf (Dominican Republic)
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