His rich baritone, undergirded by a rapier wit and irrepressible zeal, resonated indelibly across our sports landscape.
Rays veteran radio play-by-play voice Dave Wills provided a soundtrack for our summers — and sound bites for generations.
If only the quips and catch phrases, subtle pauses and soaring home run calls, could have endured a bit longer.
Wills, who passed away suddenly on March 5 at age 58, bequeathed to Rays and their fans a veritable trove of memorable calls during his 18-plus seasons alongside radio partner Andy Freed. With the Rays’ assistance, and in collaboration with those in and around the organization, we have collected the best of them and ranked them.
Honorable mention. Kiermaier robs Kipnis
May 17, 2017
The setup: Credit to Bally Sports’ Tricia Whitaker (the Rays’ veteran onfield reporter) for getting former longtime Ray Kevin Kiermaier to acknowledge this is his favorite Wills call. The Rays were up 7-4 with two out in the bottom of the ninth in Cleveland when Jason Kipnis launched a fly to deep centerfield. Kiermaier ran back and leaped at the wall for the snag, denying Kipnis a certain home run.
Wills’ call: Swing and a high flyball, centerfield. Kiermaier going back, to the wall. Jumps up and ...(pause) ... makes the catch and the Rays win! The Rays win! The Rays win! Kevin Kiermaier takes away a home run from Jason Kipnis, and the Rays win 7-4. Wow!
10. Pena conquers the ‘monster’
Sept. 10, 2008
The setup: Hitless in their first 13 at-bats with runners in scoring position, the Rays finally broke through in the 14th inning against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, courtesy of Carlos Pena. His opposite-field, three-run home run off Mike Timlin, over the towering “Green Monster” in leftfield, gave Tampa Bay a 4-1 lead that reliever Jason Hammel ultimately preserved in a 4-2 triumph.
Wills’ call: Timlin ready, the 1-0 to Pena. Swung on and lifted, toward leftfield. Bay going back, to the track, at the wall ... GONE!!! Carlos Pena goes ‘oppo’ over the monster for a three-run home run, and the Rays take a 4-1 lead over the Red Sox here in the 14th.
9. Night of Choi
Sept. 24, 2019
The setup: Nursing a half-game lead over Cleveland for the American League’s second wild-card spot in the season’s final week, the Rays got a leadoff home run from fan favorite Ji-Man Choi in the 12th for a 2-1 walk-off win against the AL East champ Yankees. The triumph was Tampa Bay’s 10th walk-off win of the season.
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Wills’ call: Swing and a drive to rightfield, back at it Judge to the wall ...(brief pause) ... Rays win! Rays win! Rays win! Ji. Man. Choi walks it off here in the 12th!
8. Arozarena goes yard in Game 4
Oct. 24, 2020
The setup: His team trailing by two runs, and down two games to one in the World Series, Randy Arozarena hit an opposite-field leadoff home run in the top of the fourth off Julio Urias to put the Rays on the scoreboard. The home run was Arozena’s ninth of the postseason, and second in as many nights. The Rays ultimately would win 8-7 in a slapstick, surreal finish (see Phillips, Brett).
Wills’ call: Here’s a swing and a drive, right-centerfield, back at it goes Betts to the wall. Get outta here! It’s gone!! Randy Arozarena, on the first pitch he sees here in the fourth inning, has just gone ‘oppo’ and the Rays are on the board. It’s 2-1.
7. Pinch hit for posterity
Sept. 9, 2008
The setup: Penciled into the starting lineup against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, Triple-A callup Dan Johnson had to be scratched due to flight delays from Scranton, Pennsylania. He arrived in time, however, to lead off the ninth and deliver a game-tying blast off closer Jonathan Papelbon. The Rays won, 5-4, when Fernando Perez and Dioner Navarro hit consecutive doubles later in the inning.
Wills’ call: The 3-2 pitch from Papelbon. Swung on and hit well, deep right-centerfield, back at it Coco Crisp, to the wall ...GONE!!! Welcome to the team, Dan Johnson!!!
6. Strikeout, and a stare down
Oct. 2, 2008
The setup: Animated Rays reliever Grant Balfour entered Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the White Sox with a three-run lead, one out and the bases loaded. After striking out Juan Uribe, he yelled one of his trademark expletives on the mound at no one in particular. The next batter, Orlando Cabrera, took exception and kicked some dirt toward the mound after taking ball one. Balfour ultimately struck out Cabrera, staring him down upon exiting the mound. The Rays won, 6-4.
Wills’ call: Balfour leans in to get the sign. The pitch on its way. Swing and a miss, heeee struck him out! And he tells him to go sit down, as Cabrera and Balfour stare each other down!
5. Crawford raises the roof
June 19, 2008
The setup: With the bases loaded and his team trailing the Cubs by a run in the bottom of the seventh, Crawford took one pitch against reliever Scott Eyre (who hadn’t allowed a home run in more than year) before smashing the second over the rightfield fence. The slam capped a seven-run seventh inning in an 8-3 romp, moving the Rays (43-29) to 14 games over .500 for the first time ever.
Wills’ call: Bases loaded, the 1-0 pitch to Crawford on its way. Swing and a high fly ball, deep rightfield, back DeRosa to the wall ...GONE!!! A slam for Crawford! And the Rays have taken a 6-3 lead, and the roof is gonna blow off of this place!
4. ‘Ice cream time’
Oct. 7, 2013
The YouTube link to Wills’ call of Lobaton’s home run
The setup: Having lost the first two games of the best-of-five American League Division Series, the Rays found themselves tied at 4-all in the bottom of the ninth of Game 3. Sox closer Koji Uehara, who hadn’t allowed a home run since June 30, got two quick outs before catcher Jose Lobaton — who typically celebrated big hits with ice cream — sent an 0-1 pitch into the rays touch tank beyond centerfield for the walk-off win.
Wills’ call: Swing and a high flyball, right-centerfield. Get outta here! It is GONE!!! Splash down! It’s ice cream time! Jose Lobaton with yet another walk-off, and the Rays survive to play another game. Rays win! Rays win! Rays win, 5-4!
3. ‘Nine equals eight’
Sept. 20, 2008
The setup: Roughly seven months after manager Joe Maddon issued his “Nine Equals Eight” mantra (nine players playing hard for nine innings equated to being one of eight playoff teams), the Rays formally clinched the franchise’s first playoff berth with a 7-2 home win against the Twins. Evan Longoria’s snag of a Joe Mauer pop-up behind third base sealed the deal and set off the celebration.
Wills’ call: Swing and a pop-up, down the leftfield line. Longoria on the run, he gets there! The Rays are going to the postseason in 2008! Nine does equal eight! Rays win! Rays win! Rays win!
2. Johnson does it again
Sept. 28, 2011
The setup: Down to the regular season’s last strike against the Yankees, with a postseason berth still at stake, Dan Johnson — pinch-hitting for Sam Fuld — smacked a Cory Wade pitch just over the rightfield fence and inside the foul pole to tie the score at 7-all. Evan Longoria followed with the winning home run in the 12th inning, giving the Rays a playoff-clinching 8-7 win in Game 162.
Wills’ call: The 2-2 from Wade. Swing and a drive, down the rightfield line, to the corner. It’s gone!! Are you kidding me?! Dan Johnson with two strikes, two outs in the bottom of the ninth, has just hit it out! And the Rays are tied at 7! There’s still life! ... (12-second pause) ... Oh. My. Goodness!
1. Rays clinch Series berth
Oct. 19, 2008
The setup: The Rays led the Red Sox 3-1 with two out and a runner on first in the top of the ninth of the American League Championship Series. As a Tropicana Field audience of 40,473 stood in raucous anticipation, Jed Lowrie hit a David Price pitch directly at second baseman Akinori Iwamura, who scooped the ball and stepped on the bag to send the Rays to their first World Series.
Wills’ call: Now the 0-1 to Lowrie on its way. Swing and a ground ball to second, this should do it. Aki has it, takes it to second himself. This improbable season has another chapter to it! The Rays are going to the World Series!!!
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