ST. PETERSBURG — Shane McClanahan’s dazzling left arm? That’s a given.
Jose Siri’s quick breaks and ravenous glove in centerfield? You’ve come to expect that, too.
But Luke Raley’s wheels? To win a game and end a mini losing streak? Find me one person who had that on their Rays bingo card Friday night.
A Luke Raley home run? I’d buy that in a heartbeat. A Luke Raley game-saving catch? OK, in the right circumstance. But a Luke Raley stolen base? In the eighth inning of a 0-0 game?
Well, that’s the stuff of legend.
“He looks like some super strong superhero who’s putting cracks in the earth with every step, but he was flying,” said reliever Jason Adam, who threw a scoreless eighth inning. “He’s like G.I. Joe. A very fast G.I. Joe.”
In case you missed it, Raley was hit by a pitch to lead off the eighth against the Brewers. After Siri struck out, Rays manager Kevin Cash called for a hit-and-run on the first pitch with Francisco Mejia at the plate.
And, to reiterate, with the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Raley at first base.
“If you were to turn a Mack truck into a person, you would have Luke Raley running the bases,” said Rays pitcher Josh Fleming. “A little wonky looking, but it moves. It’s fast.”
Raley got a decent jump, Mejia swung and missed at a high fastball, and Milwaukee catcher William Contreras bounced his throw into centerfield. Raley immediately popped up and reached third base.
Three pitches later, Mejia drove him in with a sacrifice fly to leftfield for the only run in Tampa Bay’s 1-0 victory.
So does Raley look more like a linebacker or a tight end on the bases?
“Both,” Cash said. “Not a guy I would want to run into.”
To be fair to Raley, he was actually a running back at Highland High School in Medina, Ohio. But he gave up football after his sophomore year because — hard to believe — he was only 160 pounds and was tired of getting beaten up on the scout team.
He’s in the big leagues because of his enormous power potential — he’s averaging a home run every 12.6 at-bats this season — but Cash has been talking about Raley’s athleticism for months.
And Raley has shown glimpses of his speed before. He was 36-of-46 in stolen bases over parts of seven minor-league seasons.
“I’ve always had good speed,” Raley said. “I just look like an idiot when I run.”
OK, that’s a little harsh. Raley might not be graceful on the basepaths, but if you focus on the results instead of the style points, you start to understand why Cash had enough faith to put his first baseman in motion with the game on the line.
“My whole career it’s been the same way. Everyone is like, ‘I didn’t know you could run like that,’ " Raley said. “Well, yeah, because I look stupid. But I cover some ground, I got long legs, I take big strides.”
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Raley says he has the green light to steal whenever he wants, and Cash has encouraged him to run more. The problem, Raley said, is it takes him a little bit of time to hit full speed.
“So (Josh Lowe) is an unbelievable base-stealer. That’s because J-Lo’s at full speed on his first step,” Raley said. “It takes me a little while to get going. I’m more of a top-speed guy. It’s a little different, but I can be pretty fast once I hit my stride.”
It is, in a way, emblematic of this Rays team. It was built with versatility and athleticism in mind, and Raley has more tricks in his bag than you would expect from a muscular power guy.
He was a corner outfielder with the Dodgers and had a total of 17 innings at first base in his big-league career before this season, but he has now started seven games at first and has been surprisingly agile. He had no stolen bases in his first 78 games in the majors, but now he has three in his last 10 games.
It may not have been the most plausible scenario for the Rays to win a game after blowing leads in New York the past couple of days, but there’s something to be said for the element of surprise.
“Describe Raley running the bases,” bench coach Rodney Linares repeats the question. “Weird. Awkward. He runs awkward, but he’s fast.
“He’s actually fast.”
Contact John Romano at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Romano_TBTimes.
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